The Greenbrier High School football team was the only Columbia County squad to earn a victory last week, but no one is calling the Harlem Bulldogs loser.
The Wolfpack trounced T.W. Josey High School 30-0 in a one-sided Region 3-AAAA contest Friday night at the Brierpatch.
On Saturday night at Academy of Richmond County Stadium, Harlem pushed Westside High School to the limit before the Patriots prevailed 31-27 to secure second place in Region 3-AAA.
Harlem coach Jimmie Lewis and Westside coach Gerald Barnes both had the same summation of Saturday's showdown at ARC Stadium.
After a fantastic fourth quarter scoring fest, each coach agreed that the fans got their money's worth.
"A lot of big plays and a lot of superhuman efforts," Lewis said. "If you're from Harlem you're a little disappointed, but it was a great football game. I was proud. That was the best effort I've seen a football team of mine give. They're totally exhausted, every single one of them."
Washington County High School had wrapped up the Region 3-AAA title with a win Friday night, so that left the patriots and Dogs battling for the No. 2 slot in the region, which would garner a home game in the first-round of the state playoffs.
The first half featured big plays from Westside's Tony LeZotte (a 45-yard reception to set up a touchdown, plus a 21-yard scoring pass on a trick play) and Harlem's Kelvin Sturgis (a 90-yard kickoff return and a dazzling touchdown run through traffic).
The Harlem defense contributed two fourth-down stops to send the game into the half tied 14-14.
Neither team drew blood in the third quarter, but the fourth was action-packed.
A Westside field goal made it 17-14, and the Dogs answered in two plays, as Sturgis faked LeZotte out of his shoes for a 20-yard gain, and Tae Dorsey followed with a 60-yard touchdown run to put Harlem ahead.
On the ensuing possession, Westside marched 67 yards for a touchdown and a 24-20 edge. The Harlem offense matched that score to take a 27-24 lead, then Westside flew downfield for a touchdown to go ahead 31-27.
Westside made the mistake of kicking off to Sturgis, who gathered the ball in and proceeded to weave through tacklers for a 59-yard return to the Patriots 36 with 3:26 remaining.
With Harlem's triple-option offense shredding Westside's vaunted defense, it appeared the Dogs were going to regain the lead - quarterback Domonique Brown picked up 10 yards on the first play, but on second down from the Westside 25, Harlem was stuffed for a five-yard loss.
On third and 14, Brown struggled for 10 yards to set up fourth-and-four.
Coach Lewis called an option run to Sturgis. The junior back bulled to the 15 yard line for an apparent first down, but the officials placed the football just short of the 15.
Both teams watched anxiously as the chain crew trotted on the field. The Dogs were dumbfounded when the football was inches short of the first-down marker.
With the loss, Harlem (5-3-1, 4-2 in Region 3-AAA) had to settle for third place in the region. The Dogs will travel to Forsyth, Ga., for a first-round state playoff game against Mary Persons on Nov. 23.
But the Bulldogs aren't looking past the regular-season finale against Oglethorpe County this Friday night in Harlem.
"We have to get the players to realize the importance of this game," Lewis said. "If we beat Oglethorpe, that would guarantee our first winning season since 1981. This team can do something Harlem hasn't done in 20 years."
The playoffs are out of the picture, so Greenbrier played for pride last week against Josey.
The Wolfpack achieved it with a 30-0 shutout of the visiting Eagles.
"Our defense has done a good job all year long," Greenbrier coach Mickey Derrick said after the Pack had limited Josey to four yards of total offense. "I'm very proud they were able to end up with a shutout in the last game on their home field."
Greenbrier defenders Chad Hester and Brent Edwards each had two sacks, while Nick Wandless and David Weitz also recorded sacks. Scott Wandless, Barrett Stafford, Michael Walden and Jimmy Viebrock all had tackles for losses to help stuff Josey for minus-six yards rushing on the night.
On offense, Pack seniors Nick Wandless, Taron Butler and Russell Carter scored touchdowns, and junior Ben Tankersley nailed a 39-yard field goal.
Nick Wandless finished with 114 yards rushing and two touchdowns to lead the Pack, which was no surprise to coach Derrick.
"Nick has a good night anytime he puts on a uniform. He's just that type of player," Derrick said. "He works hard at practice and it shows on Friday night."
After the game, Derrick gathered his seniors for a talk.
"I just wanted to let them know that this was their last ball game on this field, and I'm glad they went out a winner," said Derrick, who also reminded the seniors of the importance of the season finale this week.
Greenbrier (4-5, 3-4 in Region 3-AAAA) closes 2001 Friday with a 7:30 p.m. game against Butler High School at Lumpkin Road Stadium. The Pack can avoid a losing season with a victory.
"If we beat Oglethorpe, that would guarantee our first winning season since 1981. This team can do something Harlem hasn't done in 20 years." - Harlem High School coach Jimmie Lewis
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