DEXTER -- When West Laurens couldn’t get anything going against Stephens County’s big men inside, the Raiders decided to fight size inside with height outside.
The plan worked perfectly.
Garrel Quainton threw four touchdown passes, including three to 6-foot-8 Justin Smith, and West Laurens’ defense shut down Stephens County’s run game as the host Raiders pulled away for a 30-14 victory Friday in the second round of the GHSA Class AAAA playoffs.
West Laurens (9-3) will take on St. Pius X, a 52-20 winner over Eastside, in next week’s quarterfinals. The site will be determined via coin flip.
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“Our passing game was sloppy last week, and we wanted to put our best foot forward,” West Laurens head coach Stacy Nobles said. “We did that (Friday).”
After not being able to get an inside ground game going in the first quarter against a Stephens County defensive front that included 2016 Georgia commitment Ben Cleveland, Nobles turned the passing game loose. Quainton completed 21-of-28 passes for 253 yards and no interceptions, concentrating his passes on sideline routes where West Laurens had a matchup advantage.
The quick routes worked just about all night, thanks in part to a West Laurens offensive line that gave Quainton plenty of time despite giving up size up front. Quainton completed nine straight passes in the first half, and then he completed seven straight to start the second half.
“Going NASCAR messed up their defensive front,” Nobles said. “We had to get them to play a base defense, and that worked for us.”
Stephens County (8-4) jumped out to a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter on a pair of a touchdown passes from Mason Long. But West Laurens bounced back, with Quainton finding Smith, who finished with 12 catches for 160 yards, from 21 and 15 yards out, with the second touchdown coming 1:30 before halftime.
The third Quainton-to-Smith scoring pass came a little more than two minutes into the third quarter. A 14-play, 50-yard drive by Stephens County followed, but it ended on a fourth-down interception by West Laurens’ Eric Scott.
“If it’s inside the box and going with the run game, we had the upper hand,” Stephens County head coach Frank Barden said. “But it turned into a perimeter game. It went athletic, and the game flipped.”
West Laurens punter/place-kicker Bill Leroy also played a key role in the second half. He had two punts downed at the Stephens County 5 in the second half, with the second deep punt leading to a safety that extended West Laurens’ lead to 23-14.
Leroy also caused Stephens County to jump offside on a 37-yard field goal attempt late in the game, resulting in a first down that led to West Laurens’ final touchdown, an 11-yard pass from Quainton to Ramel Mason.