By Doug Gorman
Luella head football coach Paul Burgdorf spent the first half of the season reminding his team to be patient.
After dropping the first four games of the season, the message finally sank in Friday night as the Lions beat Henry County rival Eagle's Landing 27-21.
The win gives Luella (1-4) an important Region 3-AAAA North victory. Eagle's Landing, which has already lost to Upson-Lee in sub-region action, dropped to 1-4 overall.
The Lions, who are in just their second season, found a fourth-quarter hero in running back Markis Fortner.
Fortner's 18-yard rambling touchdown run with 48.8 seconds remaining in the game gave the Lions the victory and sent the Luella stadium crowd into a wild homecoming celebration.
The contest almost went down in the Luella history books as the one that got away.
After building a 20-0 lead at the end of the first half, Luella nearly shot itself in the foot with a collection of fumbles and five personal fouls in the second half.
Eagle's Landing took advantage of the mistakes, and rallied with three second-half touchdowns to take a 21-20 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
"We didn't execute really well in the second half and it almost cost us," said Burgdorf. "My hats off to Eagle's Landing. It was a great effort on their part, but it says a lot about our kids to comeback and win this game."
Fortner, who hadn't played since getting injured in the season opener against Union Grove, carried on just about every play on the game-winning drive.
"This was an exciting way to comeback after being hurt," he said. "The offensive line did a great job opening the holes. This is a big win."
Several of the players on the Luella roster started their high school careers at Eagle's Landing, including wide receivers Sean Bartram and Johnny Belt.
Both of the Lions' seniors caught a couple of big passes from quarterback Cody Haffly as Luella clicked on all cylinders in the first two quarters.
"This was a great win for our team," said Haffly. "The coaches kept telling us to believe in ourselves, and we did. We let up a little bit in the second half, but we were able to comeback."
Belt started the scoring with 1:48 remaining in the first quarter when he hauled in Haffley's 13-yard pass.
Luella stopped Eagle's Landing's next series on a fumble, and quickly found the end zone again, this time on Demarcus Moon's 5-yard run with 20 seconds remaining in the first half. For the second time in the game, the extra point failed, and Luella led 12-0.
Moon scored his second TD of the night on a 2-yard run late in the first half as the Lions took the three touchdown lead into the locker room at the break.
In the second half, two fumbles by the Lions put the Golden Eagles on the road for the comeback, and quarterback Marcus Williams took advantage.
Williams scored on runs of 10 and 5 yards less than three minutes a part as the Golden Eagles cut the lead to 20-14 with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
"Marcus Williams is a great quarterback," said Burgdorf. "He did a great job of bringing them back. When he is out there, you never known what they are going to do."
The Golden Eagles took the lead with 8:19 remaining the game when T.J. Tennant scored his touchdown run.
Johnny Thompson had an interception late in the game for Eagles' Landing, but the Lions had one more chance with the football and Fortner took advantage.
Alan Dickey put the game out of reach for Luella intercepting a pass in the final seconds.