As the national game of the week in the MaxPreps Rivalry Series presented by the National Guard, Friday night’s Evans High School showdown with crosstown rival Lakeside lived up to the billing.
Refusing to wither under pressure, Evans hurdled seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the game’s final moments, beating Lakeside 26-21, whipping the Evans faithful into a frenzy.
With 21 seconds left and trailing 21-19, Evans quarterback Matlin Marshall rolled right and lofted a pass to Joacinto Grimes at the Lakeside 15. Behind the coverage, Grimes sprinted in for the game-winning score.
During his pre-snap read, Marshall knew the safety was key to the play. “I looked him off and luckily he bit on the fake to the middle receiver and I was able to get enough arc on the ball to hit (Joacinto) Grimes for a touchdown,” Marshall said.
That was the icing on the cake in a final minute that saw the Knights score a touchdown on a Ronnie Graham 8-yard run with 50 seconds remaining to close to within 21-19.
The workhorse Graham would finish with 127 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns.
Marshall’s two-point conversion to tie the game was intercepted by Zaccheus Banks in the end zone, but the Knights’ Sean Vandiver dove on the ensuing onsides kick, giving the Knights a final chance at the end zone.
Quoting Thomas Edison, a choked-up Evans head coach Marty Jackson said, “The surest way to be successful is to try one more time and I think they believe it.”
Graham said he thought nobody gave them a chance to win and that was a motivating factor.
“A lot of people were doubting us because we were the underdog compared to Lakeside – Lakeside led Columbia County – and it added fuel to us and we came out to play with fire,” Graham said.
While the Region 2-AAAAA picture was fairly clear heading into the night, it was murky afterward, coupled with the No. 1 team in the region, Northside, Warner Robins losing to the new No. 1 team Warner Robins.
The Knights (5-4, 3-3 region) could potentially sneak into the state playoffs if they beat Northside, Warner Robins and the Panthers (6-3, 4-2) lose to Warner Robins at home in the regular season’s final week, according to Jackson, who looked at scenarios after the game.
The Panthers could potentially be knocked out of the playoff race or still finish as high as No. 2 in the region with a win and play host to a Georgia High School Association Class AAAAA State playoff first-round game.
After a sluggish first half in which they were outgained 163 to 14 and trailed 13-7, the Panthers rallied for touchdown passes of 33 and 75 yards from Hunter Banks to Forrest Nanney and BJ Raymond, respectively, in the third quarter. Leading 21-13, they had the ball inside the Knights’ 10 twice midway through the fourth quarter but stalled and two field goal attempts were unsuccessful.
“We didn’t put’em away when we could and it’s a big win for their program,” said Panthers head coach Jarrett Troxler, who was just as emotional as Jackson after the game...“It’s a hard pill to swallow.”
After the Panthers second field goal attempt, the Panthers had 80 yards to cover with just 4:11 left in the game. Not panicking, the Knights used 13 runs, culminating in Graham’s second touchdown of the night. Marshall rushed for 11 yards on a 4th-and-7 from the Evans 35 to keep the drive alive.
After Graham and Marshall scored in the first quarter to give the Knights a 13-0 lead, the Panthers came back following the first of Stephen Houzah’s two interceptions on the night. Rashad Roundtree tipped the ball to Houzah at the Panthers’ 20 and he returned it 62 yards to the Evans 18.
It took Banks two plays to find Nanney in the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown as they closed the gap to 13-7 with 9:03 left in the half.
That was the only lapse for the Evans defense in the first half in which they held the Panthers to one first down while forcing four punts.
The stats tell of the teams’ contrasting styles as the Knights rushed for 206 yards on 52 carries and passed for just 97 yards while the Panthers (Banks) passed for 220 yards and rushed for 67 yards on 25 carries.
In South Carolina Independent School Association play, the Augusta Christian Lions (3-7, 3-6 Region 1-AAA) closed out its regular season with a 50-7 loss to Orangeburg Prep (10-1, 8-1).
In other GHSA Region 2AAAAA action, Grovetown (2-6, 1-5) beat Greenbrier (0-9, 0-6) 17-14 at its homecoming.