In a game filled with big plays, Kell came up with the ones in the second half that meant the most.
The Longhorns, ranked No. 5 in Class AAAAA, used a long pass play to take the lead and forced a turnover in the final minute to seal the deal in a 20-13 win over Tucker, the No. 5-ranked team in Class AAAAAA, in the Corky Kell Classic at the Georgia Dome.
The go-ahead touchdown was not without controversy. Quarterback John Lampley threw to receiver Josh Blancato in the left flat and he turned upfield for a 79-yard touchdown. However, nearly everyone on the field – other than the officials – thought Blancato caught the pass on his knees.
“I thought he was down,” Lampley admitted. “He caught it and I was waiting for ref to blow the whistle and he didn’t. He got up and kept running.”
“Both his knees were down,” said Tucker coach Bryan Lamar.
But the whistle never blew and Blancato raced almost untouched past the Kell bench and into the end zone.
Despite the adversity – Tucker was also flagged for decisive pass interference and illegal block penalties – the Tigers still had a chance with 1:35 remaining in the game. Taking possession at the 20 after a missed Kell field goal, the Tigers completed four straight passes – quarterback Xavier Shephard connecting to receiver Joshua Vann on each -- to reach the 22.
But Tucker’s hopes were dashed junior Isaiah Green got to Shephard on a blitz and knocked the ball loose. Jamontae Holt fell on the fumble for Kell to secure the victory.
“The defensive staff did a great job of a very timely blitz,” Kell coach Derek Cook said. “I think we kind of lulled them to sleep a little bit with that pass protection, they got comfortable with it and we called a blitz and they didn’t see the guy come. That was the difference maker.”
Lampley played with a thigh bruise in the second half that left him gimpy. He finished with 103 yards rushing on 13 carries and completed 7 of 16 passes for 193 yards with two interceptions.
Tucker could not get its running game started. The Tigers were limited to 78 yards rushing, with David Davis and Samuel Bryant each gaining 26 yards. Shephard completed 10 of 19 passes for 178 yards and Vann caught eight for 156 yards.
“Our defense was very well prepared,” Cook said. “We scouted them last week against Buford. Our kids are very determined, they’re almost too stubborn to know they’re not supposed to be able to line up against kids that size and speed, but we just kept going and kept plugging and kept fighting.”
Tucker lost two fumbles and converted only two of 10 third downs.
“We made too many mistakes,” Lamar said.
Kell struck for a score on its first offensive play. Lampley faked a dive play and kept the ball off right tackle. He broke through the line and scored on a 66-yard run to stun the Tigers.
Tucker lost a fumble on its next possession, but got the ball back when Aaron Sterling intercepted Kell on a fourth-down dump pass. The Tigers then got its offense going and drove 56 yards in eight plays, converting two third-downs, and scored when Vann caught a 20-yard pass from Shephard. The kick failed, leaving Kell ahead 7-6 with 4:15 left in the period.
Kell kept the ball for 12 plays on the next drive but had to settle for a 40-yard Connor Mendelson field goal that gave the Longhorns a 10-6 lead.
Tucker took the lead with another big play from Shephard to Vann, this one a 54-yard pass on the third play of the possession. Adam Lippy’s extra point put the Tigers ahead 13-10.
Kell used a 49-yard pass from Lampley to Jared Hill to reach the 5. But Tucker’s defense stiffened and kept the Longhorns out of the end zone. Brian Strozier stopped Kell’s Josiah Futral on fourth-and-goal from the 1 to end the threat.
Kell was able to tie the game 13-13 with 2:22 remaining in the half on a 30-yard field goal by Mendelson.