By Jeffery Armstrong
Luella running back Demarcus Moon rushed for 66 yards, including a big 23-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and the Lions withstood a furious Henry County rally to defeat its county rival 35-32 in Region 3-AAAA North action at Henry County High.
Missed opportunities and turnovers spelled doom for the Warhawks.
The victory by Luella (3-6, 3-2) clinches the third seed for the Lions for next week's region playoffs against 3-AAAA South opponents Northside-WR or Warner Robins.
Henry County (3-6, 2-3) will be the North's fourth seed, playing the Northside/Warner Robins winner. Both Henry and Luella will have to travel to play those games.
The loss spoiled a great night for Warhawks senior quarterback Jeremy Cassell, who completed 11 of 14 passes for 124 yards and three touchdowns. Luella quarterback Cody Haffly completed 10 of 19 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns, while adding a touchdown run..
"Our goal all year was to finish first or second in the subregion, but we had to adjust that goal. There wasn't any quit in either team tonight," said Luella head coach Paul Burgdorf. "I told the guys at halftime that the team that made the fewest mistakes in the second half would win. We were fortunate to come out on top."
The Lions might not have if Henry hadn't made two huge mistakes and cashed in on opportunities. Luella led 21-14 with 3:30 left in the second quarter after a Haffly to Harrison Johnson 23-yard TD pass. Cassell led a drive on Henry's ensuing possession that ended with a 42-yard TD pass to Chris Jackson to bring the Warhawks within one at 21-20. A bad hold on the extra point attempt gave Luella a 21-20 lead at the half.
Henry regained the lead in the third quarter on running back Christian Twiggs' 1-yard touchdown to put Henry up 26-21 with 5:28 left after a two-point conversion failed.
Haffly led the Lions down the field on their next possession and threw a 21-yard TD pass to Jeremy Ringfield to give Luella the lead for good, 28-26, with 2:28 left in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter was Henry's undoing. Shawn Pounds caused Cassell to cough up a fumble on the first play of the quarter, and the Warhawks held. But Henry's Jackson fumbled the punt, however, and Luella recovered the ball at the Henry 23. Two plays later, Moon scored his touchdown for a 35-26 lead.
Henry rallied again, as Cassell threw his final touchdown pass to Twiggs to make the score 35-32. Once again, Idowu missed the extra point.
The Henry defense again rose to the occasion and forced a punt with a little more than two minutes remaining. The punt was short and Henry drove downfield as the seconds ticked off the clock. The Warhawks had it first-and-goal at the Lions 10 with 34 seconds left, but Luella's defense stepped up and forced a field goal. Idowu barely missed the 27-yard attempt with 1.4 seconds left, sending the Lions into a wild celebration.
"This game was close Henry played great. Our defense stepped it up and played well," said Haffly. "The receivers did well for us tonight. I just get the ball in their hands and let them do something with it."