CLEVELAND, Ga. — NOW Lumpkin County coach Heath Webb can finally talk about playing for the program’s first-ever region title.
The first-year Indians coach dodged every question imaginable the last two weeks as they prepared to take on White County, a program that had won five straight and 12 of the previous 14 meetings in the series.
The Indians took care of the first step, using a huge 35-point second quarter en route to a 56-35 win over the Warriors to clinch their first playoff spot since 2014. The next step is region front-runner and preseason favorite Dawson County.
A win next week in Dahlonega over their arch-rivals would put the Indians (7-1, 3-1 Region 7-3A) one win from their ultimate goal.
“We’re going to tell the guys to enjoy this one but also to know that there is something bigger out there,” Webb said. “We can’t avoid (the media) anymore. We have to say we’re now going to be playing for a region championship. We thought we could be in this position, and now we are.”
Senior quarterback Cooper Scott put the Lumpkin County offense on his back, rushing for 251 yards and four TDs and passing for 179 yards and one score. He was at his best, leading a wild charge in the second quarter.
Lumpkin County trailed twice in the first quarter (7-0 and 13-7) but each time answered with either a Scott touchdown run or touchdown pass. They trailed a third time early in the second quarter and watched as White County battled to tie the game at 28 late in the half on a 58-yard touchdown pass from Tripp Nix to Kane Lowery.
Neither offense could be stopped in the opening 21 minutes, as each scored on their first three drive. And it looked like it would stay that way the entire game. That is until the Indians defense changed everything over the final two minutes of the first half.
Caleb Norrell picked off a Nix pass and returned it 26 yards for a TD and a 35-28 lead. Lumpkin’s Tavion Lawrence then picked off Nix’s next pass on the next White County play and returned it to the Warriors 41.
The Indians' offense went to their bag of tricks as Scott connected with Harper Davenport, who flipped it to Mason Sullens on the hook-and-ladder for a 41-yard score with just 43 seconds left in the half for a 42-28 advantage.
“That last two minutes of the first half was huge,” Webb said. “To get us up 14 points was a big deal for us. That gave us a little bit of breathing room.”
White County went to its tricks, recovering an onside kick to start the second half at the Indians' 45. But a pair of huge penalties forced a 3rd-and-34 and an eventual punt.
After six combined scoring possessions of 2:30 or less in the first half, the Indians offense essentially drained the life out of the Warriors in the third quarter. They used a long 12-play drive, chewing up 6:45 of the quarter, that finished with a 3-yard Scott touchdown run, his third of the game at that point, for a 49-28 lead.
“We came in knowing we were going to have to score points to win this one,” Scott said. “They put 8 in the box most of the night, and when they went out of that, we went to the run.”
Scott said they have been building to this moment.
“This is huge for this group because we’ve been through it for four years,” Scott said. “It’s been tough on a lot of us, but we knew we could play. When you do things like this, it can bring programs up.”
The first half was all about the big play for both teams as they combined for eight plays of over 22 yards. Cam Wilson’s 49-yard kickoff return to open the game for the Warriors set the tone.
Each offense scored on their first three possessions before Lumpkin County forced a White County punt on the Warriors' fourth drive.
Sullens finished with 81 yards rushing and two TDs and added 50 yards receiving and a score for Lumpkin County.
Nix finished 11-of-17 for 199 yards and 2 TDs, and the two big interceptions for White County. He also added 42 yards rushing. Fowler had 83 yards rushing and four catches for 129 yards receiving for the Warriors.
Wilson rushed for 73 yards and two scores and added nearly 100 return yards for White County.
The Warriors (3-5, 1-3 Region 7-3A) can still make the playoffs but will have to find a way to win two tough road games left at Pickens and Gilmer to close out the season.
Lumpkin Co.........7.....35....7....7 -- 56
White Co............13.....15....0....7 -- 35
W -- Wilson 2 run (Vandegriff kick) 7-0, 9:45
L -- Scott 9 run (Staples kick) 7-7, 2:59
W -- Fowler 72 pass from Nix (kick blocked) 13-7, 2:05
L -- Scott 2 run (Staples kick) 14-13, 11:55
W -- Wilson 44 run (Gailey pass) 21-14, 11:14
L -- Sullens 4 run (Staples kick) 21-21, 8:04
L -- Sullens 11 run (Staples kick) 28-21, 3:19
W -- Kane Lowery 58 pass from Nix (Vandegriff kick) 28-28, 2:30
L -- Norrell 26 INT return (Staples kick) 35-28, 1:05
L -- Sullens 41 pass from Scott (Staples kick) 42-28, 0:43
L -- Scott 3 run (Staples kick) 49-28, 1:58
W -- Sullens 2 run (Vandegriff kick) 49-35, 9:42
L -- Scott 53 run (Staples kick) 56-35, 7:17