The Lakeside High School homecoming festivities featured the first tie in school history - Lauren Peters and Megan Shingler were declared co-homecoming queens during halftime of the Lakeside-Hephzibah game at Panther Stadium.
The next deadlock left the Panthers fit to be tied.
Hephzibah High School's Jeff Dalce (left) weaves his way down the field during action against Lakeside High School. Lakeside's 22-21 overtime loss to Hephzibah put the school at 3-3 in region play. The Panthers had held a 21-7 lead through the fourth quarter Friday.
Photo by Michael Holahan
Thanks to Lakeside's two fourth-quarter turnovers and some curious play-calling by coach Ed Koester, Hephzibah tied the game and went on to a 22-21 overtime win. The victory gave the Rebels a 4-2 record in Region 3-AAAA, while the Panthers fell to 3-3 in region play.
"I've never seen anything like it," Koester said later inside Lakeside's field house, where the atmosphere resembled a wake.
The first-year Lakeside coach and athletic director has had a tumultuous season. When the former Cherokee High School coach was chosen to replace the retiring Steve Crislip, some Lakeside boosters created a stir - they preferred to see an internal candidate get the job.
The scrutiny intensified last month, when it was learned that Koester had been disciplined in 1997 for rules infractions he committed while coaching at Arlington Heights High School in Texas.
After Friday's loss, Koester is in more hot water. The team is in turmoil, and some fans are ready to run the coach out of town.
"This business is based on 25-second decisions," Koester said. "When they go right you're the hero, when they go wrong you're the goat. Well, right now, you know, I'm probably the biggest goat there ever was."
Before the late miscues, Koester's game plan appeared flawless, and the Panthers were executing efficiently.
Lakeside countered Hephzibah's blitzing defense with solid offensive line play, inside draws from the shotgun formation and an array of option runs. Matt Nixon led the way, with 136 yards rushing and a touchdown.
The Panthers held a 21-7 lead midway through the fourth quarter and proceeded to drive relentlessly downfield on the Rebels. Then, on second down from the Hephzibah 25 yardline, quarterback Klay Koester attempted to hit receiver Philip Sadler on an out pattern.
Hephzibah defender Robert Hannah cut in front of Sadler, intercepted the pass and took off down the sidelines for an 80-yard touchdown return.
That score trimmed the margin to 21-14, but Lakeside regrouped on the ensuing series and drove to the Rebels 20. The Panthers called a timeout with 1:34 remaining.
When Lakeside returned to the field for a third-and-eight, there were only 10 Panthers on the field, which forced coach Koester to use another timeout.
On the next play from scrimmage, Lakeside was stopped for no gain, which set up a fourth down. The Rebels called a timeout of their own with 1:28 to go.
At that point, Lakeside had several choices: send in one of two proficient placekickers, either Brett Hilton or Jon Wilson, to attempt a field goal; go for the first down, perhaps with a pass to Steven Rogers, who finished the night with 10 catches for 134 yards and a touchdown; or simply take a knee and force the Rebels to move 80 yards for the potential game-tying score.
Lakeside went for a first down, and what happened next will live in infamy.
Klay Koester rolled out on an option, then tried to pitch to Nixon. The ball got away, and Hephzibah's Derell Hills scooped up the errant toss and sped for a 65-yard touchdown. An extra-point tied the game at 21 with 1:14 remaining.
"Obviously it wasn't the right thing because it didn't work out in our favor," a disconsolate - and defensive - coach Koester said after the loss. "If you ask me if I wanted to change it (the fourth-down call), sure. If we make the pitch and then Nixon scores, what are you going to say? 'Great play coach.' What are you going to say then?"
The game went to overtime, where the Panthers committed two more turnovers and did not advance past midfield.
During the first of two five-minute OT periods, Hephzibah recovered a fumble in Lakeside territory, then moved to the Lakeside 5 yardline, which ultimately led to a one-point win on penetration.
Lakeside had one last chance. Klay Koester threw to Brant Evans, who lateraled the ball to Rogers for a 22-yard gain. The hook-and-ladder play was an inspired call by coach Koester and helped moved the Panthers into position.
On this night, however, Hephzibah held the monopoly on miracles.
On fourth-and-one from midfield and with only 25.8 seconds left, Lakeside attempted a run up the middle, and the Rebels stuffed Nixon for a loss.
"Why the hell did we call that play?" an exasperated Lakeside player asked a teammate. "Can you explain to me why we ran that?"
There might be a lot more explaining to do when the 2001 campaign winds down.
With two games remaining in the regular season, Hephzibah (5-3, 4-2 in region play) now has a clear path to the state playoffs. Lakeside (3-5, 3-3) is only one game behind the Rebels but must beat Thomson this Friday at the Brickyard (7:30 p.m. start) to stay in the playoff hunt.
Hephzibah can secure a playoff berth with one more win, even if Lakeside finishes with upsets over Thomson and Burke County. The Rebels will be hard-pressed to beat top-ranked Statesboro this week, but whipping Glenn Hills on Nov. 16 would be good enough.
"We're alive. Hephzibah's got two more games, and we've got two tough games ahead of us as well," Koester said. "If we play like we did tonight we can win both of them."
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