STOCKBRIDGE -- The hosts had the visitors apparently right where they wanted them after a quarter.
Houston County was sharp in the first 12 minutes and had a three-touchdown lead.
But Stockbridge won the next three quarters on both sides of the line and thus the scoreboard for a 42-22 win over the Bears in a GHSA Class AAAAA quarterfinal game Friday night.
It became the Tigers’ night late in the second quarter in an odd way.
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A sack and loss of 6 yards put Stockbridge in a punting situation at its 30. The punt was severely shanked and traveled only a few yards and just stopped, as did most players.
Finally, Stockbridge’s Jajuan Jackson picked up the ball and raced a mostly uncontested 73 yards for a touchdown with just 41 seconds left in the first half.
That pulled the Tigers within 20-14.
“It was a change in the game,” Houston County head coach Von Lassiter said. “We went in stunned and kind of out of sorts.”
Stockbridge (11-2) grabbed a solid grip on momentum to open the third quarter, driving 60 yards on nine plays, taking advantage of gaps in the middle of Houston County’s pass defense for a 23-yard touchdown pass from Malachi Brown to Marquez Ezzard.
Richard Pinedo’s kick gave Stockbridge a 21-20 lead with 7:31 remaining in the third.
Houston County (10-3) answered with the first of its three three-and-outs of the second half. The Bears failed to take advantage of Amari Colbert’s interception on the Tigers’ second possession, opening the drive with a 14-yard sack of quarterback Jake Fromm.
Stockbridge again found room in the secondary, and Brown hit Artemus Mitchell for a 44-yard score as the Bears couldn’t catch him.
The kick made it 28-20 with 48 seconds left in the third.
“We were playing man coverage, and the middle of the field was open,” Lassiter said. “They beat us on man (coverage)-beaters. They threw and caught the ball as well as anybody we’ve played all year.
“They’re going to make plays like that.”
The Bears managed one first down and punted. And Mitchell went 74 yards for another score on the Tigers’ first play for a 35-20 lead 62 seconds into the fourth.
Houston County kept breathing, thanks to a safety on a bad punt snap with 7:40 left, but Fromm -- under pressure all night -- was hit and fumbled near midfield with 5:11 remaining.
Fromm was 28-of-46 for 327 yards passing, and he lost 30 yards, 26 on sacks, on one of his most scramble-filled nights of the season.
“We had to hold the ball a little too long,” Lassiter said. “They pressured us. The linemen got to us. Sometimes we had to protect a little longer with man coverage.”
Still, the Bears cruised 82 yards on 12 plays on their first drive, Fromm scoring from a yard out. The Bears recovered a fumble only moments later, and Kory Engram followed a 40-yard pass to Darion Anderson with a 2-yard touchdown.
The Tigers fumbled a punt, and Houston County went 30 yards on four plays for a 14-yard touchdown catch by Anderson on the final play of the first quarter.
Stockbridge crept back with a monster 15-play drive -- including a 15-yard gain on fourth-and-12 -- for a short touchdown pass.
And then came the wretched punt and heads-up play and momentum-snagging touchdown for Stockbridge.
“Really, it shouldn’t have mattered,” Lassiter said. “I think we dominated the first half, and we just lost the second half. Everybody here knows that.”
Brown warmed up to finish 8-of-14 for 149 yards and three touchdowns for the Tigers.
“The way they were able to throw the football and beat us,” Lassiter said of what will linger. “We were able to stop the run, and that’s what we had to do.
“We knew as long as we stopped the run, they gotta beat us throwing the ball, and they did.”