The Landrum Middle School Lions fell 28-8 to the Liberty Pines Academy Wolves in the first round of the St. Johns Middle School Athletic Association (SJMSAA) playoffs last Wednesday, Nov. 1.
Lions coach Todd Fordham and his staff had high hopes for the game, as the Lions have been making marked progress each week. The players gave a valiant effort. The game was in their grasp, but it was not to be.
Captains Joel Dearie, Luke Pirris, Evan Fleisher and Bobby Kegley squared off at midfield for the coin toss. The Wolves won the toss and opted to receive the ball for the opening kickoff.
Will Henne’s onside kick was recovered by the Wolves on their own 36-yard line. The Wolves’ opening play was a quarterback keeper left to the weak side. Their star player ran the play 64 yards for a touchdown. With a successful two-point conversion, the score was 8-0 with only 15 seconds off the clock.
The Wolves’ subsequent onside kick was recovered by Riley Fowler at the 50-yard line. The Lions’ opening drive would be brief as the Wolves took over on downs at their own 43-yard line after only one series. The Wolves’ second possession was stopped short. The Lions answered the early touchdown by stopping the Wolves’ star player with tackles by a host of players, including Cooper Fordham, Conrad Vent and Nathan Stehl-Obi.
The Lions’ second possession promised to even the score as they drove the ball down to the Wolves’ 6-yard line on a quarterback keeper to Mason Flores off the weak side. With first-and-goal inside the 10-yard line, the Lions were certain to score. The series ended with the Lions turning the ball over on downs at the Wolves’ 4-yard line.
The next play by the Wolves would take advantage of the deflated Lions, with their star quarterback running 96 yards for his second touchdown of the day. The two-point conversion failed, and the score was 14-0.
The Lions could not answer after the touchdown and turned over on downs. The Wolves took advantage of the still shocked Lions and put up another six points after a broken pass play was turned into a 70-yard scramble through the Lions’ defense by their star player. The two-point conversion was good, and the score was 22-0 at the half.
To start the second half. the Lions received the onside kick at their own 40-yard line. The next play, Mason Flores connected with Nathan Bunkosky on a 60-yard pass for a Lions touchdown. The two-point conversion pass was good, making the score 22-8 just after the half.
It looked as if the Lions may still be able to change the momentum of the game. The Wolves received the kickoff and returned it to their own 38-yard line. After one series, the Wolves’ MVP quarterback kept the ball up the middle for a 40-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion was denied by a rare one-on-one tackle on their star by Michael Hilbert. The score was then 28-8.
The Lions would make two more valiant attempts at scoring with strong runs by Fleisher and a broken 35-yard pass play on fourth-and-7 to Hilbert in the end zone, which was thrown into double coverage and intercepted by the Wolves’ star player on defense. The Lions played to the end and held the Wolves to just six points in the second half, but were unable to close the scoring gap with touchdowns of their own. The game would end with a 28-8 score.
Coach Fordham, in his final words to his players, emphasized how they had closed the gap on becoming a better team from the first game to now. He told them this game was within their grasp if they believed they could win. The game was certainly closer than the score showed. All season long the team motto was, “Keep digging.” Next year it may very well be, “Believe you can win, and you will.”