Forsyth - When West Laurens hosted Mary Persons a year ago, plenty of quality high school talent was on the field on defense.
The result was a 14-2 road win by Mary Persons in a true old-school slugfest
The Raiders and Bulldogs are different teams, and played a different game on Friday.
West Laurens head coach Kagan McClain was worried about Mary Persons' offense being better, and he was right, the Bulldogs scoring on the game's second play en route to a 28-9 win Friday night at Dan Pitts Stadium.
“We felt behind early,” said McClain, the first-year head coach for the Raiders. “I thought our kids fought back to make it 14-9. Special teams, you let them return one inside the 20, they’re gonna score.”
After early struggles and down 14-0 and then 14-3, West Laurens and sophomore quarterback A.J. Mathis found a groove with a 60-yard, seven-play drive that started with a 46-yard pass play to McKinley Kemp, who caught it after Mary Persons' Andre Threatt bobbled an easy interception.
The momentum from Mathis' 1-yard scoring keeper was short-lived with a blocked PAT and then a 79-yard kickoff return by Desmond Williams.
Mary Persons converted that into a 15-yard touchdown run from Wilson two plays later, and the lead was back to two possessions with 3:20 left in the first half.
“It’s 14-9, and we get that one back and it’s 21-9, and that’s where it stayed right there until the end,” Mary Persons head coach Brian Nelson said. “We played a lot better defense tonight than we’ve played.”
Mary Persons all but sealed the top seed in Region 2-AAAA with the win, improving to 3-0 in region and 6-2 overall. West Laurens fell to 4-4 and 2-1, and into a tie for second with Howard, which knocked off Upson-Lee. West Laurens has beaten Howard, and hosts Upson-Lee next week.
The Raiders were without standout linebacker Dorian Gorham, who played only a few snaps after hurting his ankle in practice and then tweaking it early in the game.
“He’s a good football player, one of like the cornerstones of their defense,” Nelson said. “He’s one of the guys we really were concerned about.”
Both teams have had to do some rebuilding on defense, with Mary Persons losing the marquee defender in end Malik Herring, now at Georgia. But the Bulldogs brought a stronger and more versatile offense into the meeting this year.
The Bulldogs had a 223-120 edge in total offense at halftime, and a 21-9 lead.
Quen Wilson went 67 yards fairly easily on the Bulldogs' second play, and quarterback J.T. Hartage went in from the 4 two possessions later for a 14-0 lead at the 4:25 mark of the first quarter. Wilson has missed substantial time this season with a variety of ailments.
“Looked like 100 percent there for awhile,” Nelson said of Wilson, who finished with 132 yards on 11 carries. “It gives us a guy that has a chance to get it pretty much whenever he touches it. The first long run was huge for us.”
The Raiders had seven yards of offense down 14-0, but got rolling with a 65-yard drive that Mary Persons stopped deep and forced a 27-yard field goal by Andrew Dukes.
It forced the Raiders to play from behind, which they did well in pulling to within 14-9. But life on offense got a little tougher.
“I think we drove the ball a couple times in the first half, but we’ve got to put the ball in the end zone when we do that,” McClain said. “The second half, they came out and stoned us.”
The Raiders managed only three first downs in the second half, one coming after converting a fourth down only to fumble it away deep, setting up Mary Persons’ final touchdown with 3:13 left.
“If we could just stay out of our way half the time, we could be a little better football team,” Nelson said, citing a dropped probable touchdown pass, penalties, and the bobbled interception that led to a Raiders touchdown. “There were some things that were there. We’re not like a well-oiled machine yet.”