SUGAR HILL — Senior linebacker Sterling Sumpter, a one-time offensive lineman as a freshman, took the sledgehammer Winder-Barrow coach Heath Webb handed him, raised it high overhead, and was immediately mobbed by teammates.
The gesture symbolized four-years of what Webb was selling the Bulldoggs program as they try to breakthrough in Region 8-AAAAAA.
Sumpter earned the massive tool by blocking a potential game-tying field goal as time expired to preserve the Bulldoggs’ thrilling 24-21 region win over Lanier Friday night at Lanier Community Stadium.
“The sledgehammer is something we’re using as a symbol that it’s time to start knocking down the doors to greatness,” Webb said. “We’ve been pretty good the last three years. We’re trying to take that next step.
“Sterling is one of those ‘program kids’ in that he’s played just about every position on the team at some point in time. He just does whatever the team needs him to do. I’m happy for him and the team.”
The victory is perhaps the biggest in program history since a 16-7 win over Clarkston in the 1993 Class AAA quarterfinals. It now sets the stage for the Bulldoggs (7-0, 2-0 Region 8-AAAAAA) to make a run at the 8-AAAAAA title.
“We’re putting ourselves in a position to make some goals happen. The kids believe they can do this and they’re playing well right now.”
As for Sumpter, the block was supposed to be for Ryan Mayard.
“I was trying to open a spot for Ryan but the hole opened in front of me and I was able to get a hand on it. Just an awesome feeling right now,” he said.
Sumpter’s heroics should not have been needed, however, as Winder-Barrow led 24-14 with just 1:03 left. But after forcing a Bulldoggs punt, the Longhorns staged their quickest drive of the game to pull within the final margin.
Zach Calzada capped a 5-play, 55-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run with 12.5 seconds left. He accounted for all the yardage scrambling for a 17-yard run after connecting on three straight passes for 37 yards.
Lanier then managed to recover the ensuing onside kick, and coupled with a 15-yard misconduct penalty on the Bulldoggs, the Longhorns had one last gasp. A 10-yard pass and then a 5-yard offsides on Winder put the ball at the Bulldoggs 20 with under a second left.
But Sumpter spoiled Michael Decu’s 37-yard attempt to send it to overtime.
“I don’t know how we got a shot there at the end but our guys fought back and gave themselves a chance. That’s all you can ask for,” Lanier coach Kory Mobbs said.
But Mobbs also knows it was there for the taking. They held Winder to minus-7 yards on 8 carries and kept senior quarterback Brock Landis and a talented receiving corp in check in the first half.
Yet, the Longhorns (3-3, 0-1) went into halftime trailing 14-7 when Winder's Kenny Kemp picked off a Calzada pass and raced 51-yards for the score with just 24 seconds left in the half.
“We had two big turnovers and a missed field goal and they had none and made a field goal,” Mobbs said. “Our defense played outstanding except for a couple of plays and I thought we ran the heck out of the ball. But, that’s football. You can’t make mistakes and expect to win.”
Lanier dominated the early action forcing three consecutive Winder punts to open the game, with each possession getting the Longhorns deeper into Bulldoggs territory.
And the Longhorns grabbed the first lead when Calzada, after a double-reverse flea flicker, found Zach Butler on a 30-yard bomb as Butler laid out for the catch in the end zone to give the Longhorns a 7-0 lead on the final play of the first quarter.
The game changed in the final 2:25 of the half when Landis and Lamonta Mack connected on a 52-yard crossing pattern to tie the game at 7 with 1:44 left.
Five plays later Kemp gave the Bulldoggs their first lead on his interception return.
Lanier stormed out of the intermission using a 16-play, 80-yard drive, capped by Kevonte Polk’s 18-yard scoring run, that chewed up 6:50 of the third quarter.
But Winder answered back quickly.
Landis went 4-for-4 for 78 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown strike to Mack, to reclaim the lead 21-14.
It stayed that way until Harlin Brown booted a 24-yard field goal with 10:42 left in the game.
Winder.....0....14....7....3 -- 24
Lanier......7......0....7....7 -- 21
L -- Butler 30 pass from Calzada (Armstrong kick) 7-0, 0:00
W -- L. Mack 52 pass from Landis (Brown kick) 7-7, 1:44
W -- Kemp 51 INT return (Brown kick) 14-7, 0:24
L -- Polk 18 run (Armstrong kick) 14-14, 5:10
W -- L. Mack 6 pass from Landis (Brown kick) 21-14, 3:54
W -- Brown 24 FG 24-14, 10:42
L -- Calzada 1 run (Armstrong kick) 24-21, 0:12