Lions Fall to Rebels, 22-20
By Will Johnson
ATHENS – After winning a thriller against the Alto Yellow Jackets in the Bi-District round of the playoffs, the Lovelady Lions found themselves in another tight contest in the Area round of the postseason.
This time, their opponent was the Bogota-Rivercrest Rebels who came into the game with an unblemished 11-0 record. The Lions sported a record of 7-4 and at face value, it would seem the Rebels would be favored.
Lovelady, however, had different ideas especially after their 22-20 come-from-behind win the previous week. Unfortunately, the Lions were unable to pull off a second consecutive comeback win and found themselves on the wrong side of a 22-20 score when the final horn sounded.
The game started off as a defensive struggle. The Lions won the opening coin toss and deferred to the second half. Rivercrest took possession of the ball at their own 29 and quickly moved across the midfield stripe and into Lovelady territory.
The Rebels worked their way down to the Lions’ 31, but an incomplete pass from Rivercrest QB Lucah Strickland on fourth and two gave the ball to the Lions.
Lovelady went to the run on their first possession of the game. Behind the running of Lions’ RB Tim Johnson and QB Colt Robinson, Lovelady crept into Rivercrest territory, but a nine-yard sack of Robinson forced the Lions to punt.
Punter Jay Thomas Robinson boomed a 52-yard punt which was downed by the Lions at the Rivercrest four yard line. On the next play from scrimmage, Rivercrest RB Tristan Cain took a handoff from Strickland, found the edge of the Lion defense and raced untouched for a 96-yard TD at the 4:17 mark of the first quarter. The try for two was no good but the Rebels had staked themselves to an early 6-0 lead.
The remainder of the quarter was a throwback to days long since passed as both teams slugged it out in the middle of the field. The second period was more of the same until the final two minutes of the half.
Following a Rebel punt that pinned the Lions at their own one-yard line, Lovelady was forced into a three and out. JT Robinson, punting from his own end zone, boomed a kick that was muffed by Rivercrest’s Jayden Townes at the Lions’ 49-yard line. Lovelady’s T’amian Platt pounced on the ball to give Lovelady possession at the Rivercrest 49.
A 10-yard pickup by C. Robinson and a 14-yard Robinson to Robinson completion set the Lions up at the Rebel 25 with 1:27 left in the half. Unfortunately for the Lovelady offense, the Rebel defense stepped up, stonewalled the Lions and forced a turnover on downs.
The Lions returned the favor, forced a punt and gained possession of the ball with six seconds left at their own 48. On the last play of the half, C. Robinson dropped back to pass and saw Michael Price had a step on the Rivercrest secondary.
Robinson’s pass was on the money and Price made a diving catch at the three-yard line. On the play, however, time expired in the first half and the Lions headed into the locker room trailing 6-0.
After the break, the Lions came out with a new sense of purpose. Lovelady started their first possession of the second half with the ball at their own 38. C. Robinson picked up five yards on first down and then Johnson bulled his way for another 10 on two carries.
With the ball at the Rivercrest 47, it was déjà vu all over again as C. Robinson connected with Price who made his second diving catch of the game and picked up 37 yards down to the Rebels’ 10. On the next play, Johnson found a seam in the defense and crossed the goal line to tie the score at six, with 10:02 left in the third quarter.
The Rebels wasted little time in recapturing the lead as they drove the ball from their own 38 to the Lovelady 20. From there, Cain picked up five, Strickland added six and then Cain burst up the middle for nine yards and a touchdown. Strickland slithered into the end zone on the two point conversion to give Rivercrest a 14-6 lead with 7:02 left in the third.
Following a Lovelady punt, the Rebels began their next drive from their own 19. Cain and Devon Womack began to pick up big chunks of yardage against the Lions’ defense, but after a 23 yard run from Strickland, the senior QB came up gimpy.
The Lions seized the opportunity and forced a turnover on downs and took possession on their own 37. An interception from C. Robinson gave the ball back to the Rebels at the 49. Once again, the Lions’ defense rose to the occasion.
On first down, Strickland was sacked by Greyson Bachynsky for an eight yard loss. The next play changed the momentum of the game to the Lovelady side of the field.
Strickland still appeared to be hobbled by his earlier injury and on second down, the Lions broke through the Rebel protection and forced Strickland to scramble. He managed to get the ball off on an ill-advised screen pass but standing there for the interception was Lovelady’s DaMario Mattingly.
The big defensive lineman snagged the ball and rumbled 47-yards for a pick-six to cut the Rivercrest lead to 14-12. The try for two was no good but as the third quarter came to an end, the momentum seemed to be wearing Lovelady maroon.
As the fourth quarter got underway, the Lions forced a three and out from the Rebels and Lovelady took over near midfield with a chance to take their first lead of the game.
Johnson picked up three yards on first down and then C. Robinson connected with JT Robinson for two more on second down. Faced with a third and five, Johnson took the hand-off from C. Robinson and broke free on a 38-yard run down to the Rebels’ nine.
With a first and goal, Johnson picked up four and then C. Robinson took it the rest of the way for a TD. C. Robinson also plowed his way into the end zone for two and with 9:43 left in the game, the Lions led 20-14.
Rivercrest’s next possession ended with a turnover on downs and gave the Lions the ball with 6:50 left to play. Looking to run out the clock, Lovelady only picked up four yards and was forced to punt.
The Rebels took possession at their own 33 with 5:28 left to play. Strickland picked up three yards, combined, on back-to-back runs and faced a third and seven situation. On the next play, however, he found Womack for 14 to move across the midfield stripe. Cain picked up 18 after the first down and then added seven more to bring the ball to the 25 with under three minutes left.
Strickland gained six on second down and was followed by consecutive runs from Womack to move the ball to the Lions’ five. Cain picked up three more and with 1:22 left to play, Strickland scored on a QB sneak to tie the game. On the ensuing two-point conversion, Cain managed to find a gap in the defense and scored to give the Rebels a 22-20 lead.
Lovelady had one last chance, but it was not meant to be as the Rivercrest Rebels hung on to defeat the Lions and move into the Regional Semi-Finals.
The Rebels will play the Centerville Tigers next Friday in Athens. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.