Entering Friday’s quarterfinals round, Lowndes’ offense was the cream of the crop, scoring at will with almost laughable final results. All of the jokes stopped once the Vikings faced Westlake.
The Lions’ defense quieted the noise and enjoyed the last laugh following a 24-21 victory over the visiting Vikings in the semifinals of the 7A playoffs.
“We’ve shut people down, for the most part, all year,” said Westlake head coach Kareem Reid. “We have a heck of a defense. We have a championship defense. Nobody outside of our circle knew it. I saw it in us, and our kids showed it tonight.”
Westlake’s stout defense forced and recovered three fumbles. The Lions converted two of these turnovers into touchdowns. Early in the first quarter, defensive lineman Makael Khaaliq scooped up a loose ball and chugged 34 yards for a 7-0 lead.
While there weren’t any turnovers in the second quarter, the host Lions remained as a piercing thorn in Lowndes’ side. Westlake’s linemen clogged holes and its linebackers scrapped from sideline to sideline to cut off all outside runs. When quarterback Michael Barrett dropped back to pass, he was either dashing to avoid an incoming rush or throwing into tight windows.
The Lions recorded their second score of the game following a charitable gift. An offside call on a field goal attempt kept the drive alive. On the next play, quarterback Ravaughn Burch scampered across the goal line from four yards out, making the game 14-0. This score would hold at halftime.
On the first snap of the third quarter, Westlake’s defensive front gang sacked Barrett and knocked the ball from his hand. The Lions recovered the fumble at the 12-yard line. On the ensuing play, Burch’s agile legs once again propelled him to the end zone, giving Westlake a 21-0 advantage.
It appeared as if an impending rout was set to take place following this score and another recovered fumble by Westlake. However, the turning point occurred when Lowndes blocked a field goal and returned the ball to the 35-yard line.
After moving toward midfield, the Vikings finally showed why their offense was so highly revered throughout the state. Tyson Harris atoned for his previous fumble when he busted free for a 55-yard touchdown sprint, cutting the deficit to 21-7.
In the fourth quarter, Harris snatched an interception. Lowndes capitalized on this and proceeded to march downfield. Barrett connected with wide receiver Xavier Jenkins for a 25-yard touchdown strike to narrow the score to 21-14.
Lowndes’ rally continued to gain momentum when linebacker Fred Stewart picked off Burch at the 11-yard line. Soon after the interception, Barrett tossed a bullet to Marcus Gary and the running back blew by the defense for an 80-yard score late in the fourth quarter.
With the game even at 21 apiece and overtime looming over the horizon, Westlake pulled together a string of successful runs by Burch and Maurice Peeks. The Lions milked the clock to the final seconds and put kicker James Miller in a position to be the hero.
Miller overcame a timeout to ice him and the nerves of the playoffs by drilling a 39-yard field goal as time expired to clinch the win.
“I couldn’t do this without my teammates. I just thank God for this opportunity,” said Miller. “When they iced me, I thought back to a similar situation two weeks ago. I just closed my eyes, prayed to God and hoped he’d be with me.”
Westlake’s ride through uncharted territory lives on for one more week. This win marks the school’s first-ever trip to the semifinals. Up next for the Lions, a home matchup versus fellow No. 1 seed Roswell with the victor advancing to the Georgia Dome.
Lowndes’ season ends in heartbreak at 10-3. The Vikings averaged 45.6 points per game and posted 92 in a first-round playoff win over Hillgrove. However, their firepower was extinguished on the road in South Fulton County.
“Westlake came to play. We turned the ball over too many times to win the game,” said Lowndes head coach Randy McPherson. “We fought hard the whole game. Westlake is tough on defense. They had a great gameplan. They just came at us. We weren’t able to make any plays in the first half. We made some in the second half. Turnovers were the difference in the ballgame.”