PERRY -- A victory formation that felt this good had been a long time coming for Veterans.
“Probably (the biggest) since we won the region title game up at Mary Persons, to be honest,” Veterans head coach David Bruce said. “I know it.”
The Warhawks took the lead after a drive of more than nine minutes and then came up with the fourth-down stop with less than two minutes left to knock off West Laurens 14-7 on Friday at Herb St. John Stadium in a GHSA Region 2-AAAA battle.
“We had a lot of opportunities,” West Laurens head coach Stacy Nobles said after giving his team a mighty fiery lecture. “This one’s over with. We’ve gotta put it to bed and find a way to rebound next week.”
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Veterans improved to 3-3 overall and 2-0 in region play while 10th-ranked West Laurens fell to 5-2 and 2-1. The Warhawks visit Perry next week, while the Raiders host Baldwin.
Logan Byrd came up with the two scoring plays, and they were of vastly different description.
Bill Leroy’s nice punt got a big roll and pinned Veterans back on its 6 with 10:06 left in the third quarter. The Warhawks promptly lost 5 yards and faced third-and-16. Byrd took the shotgun snap his own end zone, saw a hole up right up the middle and took off. He veered to his left and outran the Raiders for a 99-yard touchdown run.
“We had it in last year; it was something we got some mileage out of,” Bruce said of the straight quarterback sneak call in the shotgun. “We really hadn’t shown it this year, and we put it in.”
Dylan Blevins’ kick gave the Warhawks a 7-0 lead at the 8:27 mark of the third quarter.
Vanden Vicsotka then intercepted Jalen Mack’s pass on the second snap of the West Laurens possession, and the Warhawks had momentum.
They went from their 39 to a first down at the West Laurens 16 but got nowhere on three plays -- including a near interception -- only to miss on a 33-yard field goal.
The thankful Raiders needed seven plays -- including passes of 43 yards to Leroy and 28 to Peyton Baggett -- to cover 80 yards and get a 3-yard touchdown from Darius Bradford.
“We bounced back,” Nobles said. “We give up a 99-yard touchdown run. You don’t see that very often. That’s hard to overcome, but our kids responded well.”
Leroy’s kick tied it at 7 with 13 seconds left in the third. And then came “the drive,” which started with Byrd losing three yards on first down.
With Byrd and Harris running and senior Colby Mauldin coming up with two big second-down catches, the Warhawks eliminated a full 9:20 off the clock on the 16-play, 75-yard scoring drive.
This time, Byrd plowed in over left guard from a yard out, just about where the ball was for his 99-yarder. Blevins made it 14-7 with 2:46 left in the game.
“That’s the sign of a team that’s getting their act together,” Bruce said.
The Raiders started on their 31 with 2:38 remaining, and a hook-and-lateral pass play on fourth down came up short.
Bradford finished with 80 yards, Byrd 127 and Desjuan Harris 83.
“We weren’t able to get the run game going,” Nobles said. “Their plan was to take away the run, just like we knew it would be. If we can’t run the football ... .”
Bruce said that was the Warhawks’ priority.
“We were bound and determined to stop the run,” he said. “We knew if we didn’t stop (Bradford), it wasn’t going to matter.”