SPORTS RECAP: West Laurens races to win over South Effingham
The Courier Herald – September 26, 2017
West Laurens put a crooked number in the win column, and two on the scoreboard, in a near-shutout of South Effingham Friday night at The Shu.
The Raiders got off the offensive schneid in a 34-2 rout that puts them back at .500 on the season.
Quarterback A.J. Mathis developed the hot hand behind center after a sluggish start, throwing for 151 of 280 offensive yards for West Laurens in what ended up being a runaway victory.
"I was disappointed in how we started," said West Laurens head coach Kagan McClain. "We sat there and told them in pregame that, look, last year we did the same thing, went down to their place and started slow. We were up 7-0 at halftime and won 41-0. I said, 'Man against good teams, South Effingham's a good team, but when we get in our region when we're in the thick of the fire and we're in a dogfight, we can't start that slow. We've got to come out and start the way we finished the first half."
West Laurens opened with a pair of three and outs, and moved the chains on its next two possessions, but failed to reach midfield. They broke through late in the second quarter when they started what would be their first scoring drive at their own 33.
Mathis led his team down the field in six plays, completing a 9-yard throw before picking up a first down to the Raider 41 on a keeper up the middle. Dorian Edmond then took a jet sweep 15 yards to put West Laurens past midfield for the first time on the contest.
Mathis, settling into a groove, hit Tyrus Reed on a 17-yard slant to the the right, then stared down pressure from both sides to find Ben Deal on another throw to the right flat. The QB was clobbered a split second after getting the pass off, but delivered it to the open Deal, who stooped to bring it in, then drove his way past four defenders along the sideline and broke a sure gang-tackle at the five to reach the 1 and attempt to stretch the ball across the pylon.
Deal, along with the rest of the Raider crowd, thought he had the score. But the officials disagreed, and marked the play down at the one.
The Raiders stuck it in on the next snap, feeding the ball to Doryan Gorham who scaled the pile for the 1-yard touchdown.
Moments later, sideline photographer Billy Touchberry showed Deal his shot of the play that proved he might have indeed broken the plane.
"I ran over the first dude and I just decided to go outside of the second guy and stuck it on the pylon," Deal said. "I just looked at the ref, and was waiting for him to hold up his hands, and the goal line's right here. He put his foot right there, and I was just like, 'Come on man.'"
Denied the touchdown, he redeemed himself after the Raider defense got the ball back on a 3-and-out.
Mathis picked up where he left off at the Raider 33, reeling off four completions out of five throws (with a sixth that was called back due to penalty) en route to a second score. His 16-yard strike to Jeremiah Giddens, followed by a 16-yarder to Trent Carr and a 10-yarder to Deal, set up the touchdown catch he wouldn't let get away.
From 20 yards out, Mathis stepped up and drove one over the middle to Deal, who caught the ball at the 10 and outran the late-arriving defenders the rest of the way to put the Raiders up 13-0.
Cam Coup's point-after was blocked, but West Laurens took a two-score lead into halftime.
Mathis finished the night 11 of 20 for 151 yards and one touchdown in likely his most poised performance as the Raider starter.
His newfound rhythm in the second quarter got the West Laurens offense going.
"They were stuffing our run," McClain said. "We couldn't run the ball. We had to throw it, and A.J. getting in that little groove and those receivers getting open kind of softened them up a little bit so we could run the ball."
Edmond led the Raiders on the ground with 66 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown.
Deal was the three-way impact player who inspired the Raiders the duration of the night. As a receiver, he caught three balls, including the one for a touchdown. He featured prominently, as usual, for the Raider defense with a number of tackles. He added a blocked punt that set up his team's fourth touchdown. He fought his way into the backfield and shoved the South Effingham shield man into Beck as he tried to get off the rugby-style kick.
"They had a 'bear' blocking the first pressure that shows," he said. "As the quarterback was trying to punt, I kind of threw my shoulder into him and he fell into the QB. I didn't know where the ball was. I about broke my neck trying to find out where the ball was in the air."
The Raiders scored snaps later, loaded the backfield on a three-back pistol set, sending Doryan Gorham up the middle behind a pair of blockers for the four-yard score.
"It was a good night," Deal said. "It's been great getting our offense going. We kind of struggled week 1 and beginning of week 2, so it was good to get it rolling."
Giddens added three catches for 34 yards
McKinley Kemp concluded the Raider scoring on the night with house call near the end of the third quarter that turned around a promising South Effingham drive. The senior DB, who was sitting dead read on a throw into the right flat, stepped in front of the route and ran it back 67 yards to the endzone.
West Laurens held the Mustangs to 41 yards of rushing on the night, with 105 yards through the air, although its night ended on a sour note, when a fluke play in the final three minutes of a running-clock fourth quarter spoiled what would have been a shutout for the Raider defense.
West Laurens' second unit of defenders succeeded in holding the Mustangs following a fumble at the Raider 28 that gave them their only scoring opportunity.
South Effingham opened with a gadget play, sending running back Taylor Jackson on a sweep to the right side on a sweep-turned-pass that was completed to Trevor Driggers. The eight yard gain set the Mustangs up with four opportunities in a goal-to-go situation, but West's Dre Bonner and Keith Edwards bottled up Mustang QB Anthony Beck on his fourth-down scramble at the three yard line.
West Laurens, taking over on downs inside their own five, snapped the ball over the head of second-string quarterback Bradley Wilson and out the back of the endzone for a safety.
The Raider head coach was disappointed that the final score didn't include that coveted zero on the other side of the board, but said that didn't ruin another outstanding performance by his defense.
"As far as I'm concerned, the defense got a shutout, which is fine," McClain said. "Ultimately we want to win. These JV kids, they're in there learning, they needed to get that experience."
West Laurens busted the game open coming back from halftime when they forced a South Effingham punt with an opening three-and-out.
Beck had the deep snap sail over his head, and in a monumental effort ran back to his own 1 to recover the ball and get the kick away.
The punt, under pressure, climbed at least 12 stories in the air before falling into the arms of McKinley Kemp, who fair-caught it four yards past the original line-of-scrimmage.
The Raiders shook off a 15-yard unsportsmanlike foul and a blindside sack of Mathis that nearly resulted in a fumble to convert a fourth down on the first series, then fed Edmond on five straight runs. The junior back, behind Gorham's lead block, scored on the fifth touch from 15 yards by tunneling his way to the endzone through a crowd of defenders off left tackle.
The win, which is the Raiders' second on the season and McClain's second as their new head coach, will give West Laurens some much-needed momentum as they head into a home contest against unbeaten Warner Robins next Friday night.
"It's definitely a big deal," McClain said of picking up his team's second win. "We started slow this year, but every team we've played's been a quality team. We've played a couple ranked teams already. Last year we were 3-1 at this time, but we won one of those games in overtime. We're not far off from where we are. I think we've played some better teams, and I think the teams we've played have improved since last year. It's good to get a second one. We've got a tough one next week."