Complete story compliments of Rick Head.
By RICK HEAD
Lowndes High showed why it's one of the nation's elite teams outscoring Ware County 38-0 over the final three periods en route to a 45-7 victory here Friday night at Memorial Stadium.
The Vikings (7-0), the top team in Class AAAAAAA, are ranked between No. 9 (High School Football America) and No. 16 (MaxPreps, Massey Ratings) in six national polls. Friday's victory was the 10th straight in the series against Ware County.
"Not much went right tonight," head coach Jason Strickland said to his squad following the loss. "Do not let the scoreboard define you. I'm not quitting and the coaches are not quitting. You just got beat by a really good team.
"We've got a lot of things to fix. The challenge, though, is to win the region. Let's maximize our talents ... we control that. Nobody is happy so our focus is going to be moving forward and getting better."
The Gators (3-3) ended a brutal non-region schedule with five of the six opponents ranked in the Top 10 of their respecitve classifications at game time. Ware County will have a week off before embarking on a four-game region schedule starting October 18 at Statesboro.
"We all understand our schedule has been the toughest in the state," said Strickland. "We can wipe the slate clean and start over when we go to Statesboro. We are beat up as any team I've had, but these guys have a heart as big as Waycross."
The Gators went toe-to-toe with Lowndes for 12 minutes. One quarter in, the game was tied at 7-all and Ware County had an 88-82 advantage in total yards.
"Early on the effort was good," Strickland said. "We missed on some chances to take a lead in the first period."
Over the final three periods, the Vikings' superior size, strength and depth took over. Lowndes' defense limited the Gators to just 27 yards of offense on their last 34 plays. They (Vikings) blocked consecutive third quarter punts setting up touchdown drives of four and nine yards in a span of 1:48 to break the game open.
"On both sides of the ball they come at you in waves," said Strickland. "Offensively, they can change the tempo. That is the best offensive line I've seen in my 21 years. Defensively, they are long and athletic. We (coaches) knew it was going to be a battle.
"We felt like we had a couple of schemes that would work earlier against them. We were going to have to take advantage and we did once. We missed another chance in the first quarter and again in the second half by not capitalizing on turnovers."
Lowndes scored on its first possession driving 55 yards in six plays with Gary Osby scoring the first of his three touchdowns with an 11-yard run, the third gain of double-digits in the possession. Brian Palacious connected on the first of his four PATs with 8:22 to play in the opening stanza.
The Gators responded with an eight-play, 80-yard drive eating of 3:31 off the clock to tie the score at 7-apiece. The drive was the only one in which the Ware County offense moved across midfield.
Quarterback Thomas Castellanos (17 carries, 28 yards; 8-of-18, 68 yards) supplied two big runs and two big throws. An 18-yard scramble on the second snap set the possession in motion. Castellanos scrambled 10 yards on a third-and-nine three plays later.
Cartevious Norton scampered 18 yards on a swing pass from Castellanos on the ensuing snap. Jalen Melvin darted 30 yards for the score off a quick slant one play later. Brody Hall tacked on the PAT to even the score with 4:51 showing on the first quarter clock.
Ware County was unable to gain any yardage after Jeremy Butler recovered a Vikings' fumble at the Lowndes 30. A heave under pressure from Castellanos to Melvin at the goal line was tipped away by a Lowndes' defender on third-and-21.
The Vikings followed a short punt with a 73-yard march scoring on the third play of the second period. Israel Mitchell bounced off left tackle from four yards out giving the visitors the lead for good. Palacious split the uprights for the 14-7 lead with 11:31 to play in the half.
After the first of nine consecutive defensive stops, five of which were three-and-outs, Lowndes used a methodical approach to score its final points of the first half.
The Vikings used up 5:52 of the second period clock with an 11-play, 45-yard drive that ended with a 32-yard field goal by Palacious for a 17-7 advantage with 2:36 to play in the half.
Ware County's Johnny Lattimore plucked a fumble out of mid-air on the third play of the second half setting the Gators up at the Lowndes 45. Four plays later, the Vikings were taking over after stopping the Ware County offense one yard shy of extending the possession.
Lowndes quickly moved 64 yards in seven plays with Osby punching the ball in from a yard out with 6:52 on the third period clock. Quarterback Jacurri Brown supplied the big play with a 38-yard sprint on the second play.
The touchdown was the first of three in a four-minute span for the Vikings pushing the 10-point margin out to 38-7.
The first of two straight blocked punts followed with Lowndes scoring in two plays from four yards away. Osby did the honors with his second one-yard run.
A second consecutive three-and-out ended with the Vikings blocking a punt and recovering at the Ware County nine. Justin Lee covered the distance on the ensuing snap.
"We did not do a good job of protecting our punter," said Strickland. "That will be addressed next week."
After forcing a three-and-out for a third straight time, Lowndes marched 43 yards in seven plays for the final touchdown of the night. The last six snaps came with a running clock in the fourth period.
Brown's four-yard run with 8:53 remaining culminated the possession. Franklin Aguilar split the uprights with the last point.
NOTE: The Gators will take a week off before starting their Region Schedule against Statesboro. All pictures provided by Bo Carter.
The Ware County Board of Education recognized the Teacher's of the Year for the school district prior to the kickoff. Pictured here is Ware County Superintendent Bert Smith and the System Wide Teacher of the Year, Tina Goble.