With the game seemingly on the verge of slipping away from Landmark Christian School, the War Eagles did what the War Eagle do.
Down 17-7 late in the third quarter, with their quarterback/safety Joey Blount nursing a stinger, Landmark (8-0, 5-0 in Region 5A), ranked No. 3 in Class A, turned to its offensive line and hard charging backs, and scored two fourth quarter touchdowns, while the defense got a big takeaway late, to hold off No. 2 Wesleyan (6-2, 3-2), 21-17, on homecoming night in Norcross.
When Blount went down making a tackle with just under two minutes left in the third quarter, Wesleyan finished off a 9-play, 44-yard drive with a 33-yard field goal by Manteo Rengifo to push its lead to 17-7.
Landmark returner Lofton Tidwell then muffed the kickoff, but recovered quickly and dashed 50 yards to the Wolves’ 37-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, in the wildcat formation, freshman Dalton Colburn scooted through a hole up the middle, cut left and outran the Wesleyan secondary to the end zone to narrow the margin to 17-14, after Tom Austin’s successful extra point kick.
Landmark head coach Wayne Brantley said he and his staff discussed going with the wildcat more in the second half, after Wesleyan stymied the Eagles’ two-tight end power game in the first half. Actually, neither team moved the ball much in the first two quarters. Wesleyan went into the locker room with a 7-0 lead after Josh Morris caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Banks Ramsey on the final play of the second quarter.
“We thought we were a little more physical than them up front, so we thought we could go with our two-tight ends,” Brantley said. “But [Wesleyan] did a great job, so we thought we should still go with a little more wildcat, but spread them out a little more.”
And that’s what Landmark did. Wesleyan moved the ball some on its ensuing drive, but a negative yardage run, an incomplete pass and a sack forced the Wolves to punt on fourth down from midfield. The kick was shanked badly and Landmark took over on its 46 yard line. The offensive line, Colburn and Tidwell took over from there.
From the spread wildcat formation, the War Eagle offensive line mauled Wesleyan’s front seven. On the 10th play of the drive, Blount came in to bull his way into the end zone from inside the 1-yard line to give Landmark a 21-17 lead with a little over six minutes left.
“We told each other, don’t worry, just play Landmark football. We got this,” junior center Kyle Carrerra said. “We told them, it’s just 17-14. Now, what are you going to do about it.”
But Wesleyan wouldn’t go quietly. The Wolves drove deep inside Landmark territory on their next possession and even scored a touchdown on a 30-yard pass from Ramsey to Grant Frerking. But the play was nullified for an illegal man downfield penalty. Two plays later, Nicolas Toomer stepped in front of a Wesleyan receiver and the goal line and picked off Ramsey’s pass to thwart the march with just over three minutes left. Then, back in the wildcat, Tidwell and the Landmark offensive line ran out the clock.
"We were just looking to keep moving forward, don't look for the big play," Tidwell said of the ground game strategy. "Our offensive line did a great job. On defense, we didn't panic. We knew we had a great scheme. Coach [Robby] Ross is the best defensive coordinator in the state. We just had to keep playing."
On the other side, Wesleyan head coach Franklin Pridgen saw another one get away, on his home field. Back on Sept. 30, the Wolves lost 34-30 to No. 1 Eagle's Landing Christian.
"This is the second time we have lost to a top five team on our field," Pridgen said. "We had our chances, we just didn't finish. We're going to have to learn how to finish if we want to make a run in the playoffs."
Landmark 0 0 14 7 21
Wesleyan 0 7 10 0 17
W – Josh Morris 7 pass from Banks Ramsey (Manteo Rengifo kick)
L – Nicolas Turner 47 pass from Joey Blount (Tom Austin kick)
W – Ramsey 1 run (Rengifo kick)
W – Rengifo 33 fg
L – Dalton Colburn 37 run (Austin kick)
L – Blount 1 run (Austin kick)