From the game’s opening kickoff, the Paine College football team wanted to send a message to not only Jireh Prep, but the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
That message was loud and clear in the Lions’ 34-9 victory: we are coming.
Paine, which closed out its club season with a 3-1 record, will play in the SIAC next season.
“We know what we need to do for next year in order to be consistent,” Paine coach Greg Ruffin said. “We aren’t going to be anybody’s homecoming opponent. They are going to be in for it when they come to play us and when we walk in their house to play.”
Paine’s Clark Jones Jr. took the game’s first kickoff back for a 65-yard touchdown. That play set the tone for the rest of the game.
Emanuel Westmoreland, a freshman from Central Gwinnett in Lawrenceville, Ga., replaced an ineffective Loranzo Hammonds at quarterback in the second quarter and led a 2-play, 28-yard touchdown drive capped by his one yard rushing score.
Westmoreland finished the game 11of 23 for 224 yards with two TDs and two interceptions.
Westmoreland said with a rough week of preparation, the team needed to be ready when the lights came on.
“We had a bad week of practice, but when the game started the offensive line held their ground, the receivers caught the balls we needed and the team just dug in deep,” Westmoreland said. “It wasn’t me leading the team; it was the team leading itself.”
While the offense was clicking, it was the defense that carried the team to victory. For consecutive weeks the defense has clamped down and held the opposing team to under 100 yards on the ground.
“I can’t say enough about the defense. They will swarm in practice, the lunch room or anywhere else, so it’s no surprise when they come and do it in the game,” Westmoreland said.
Henderson Ware, a sophomore defensive tackle from Augusta, said being able to close out the season with a win was the best feeling of the day. Ware finished with eight tackles, three for a loss.
“It meant a lot for us to finish 3-1. We were supposed to go 4-0, like everyone expected, but you are remembered by your last game. We are proud of the way we finished in front of our home crowd,” Ware said.
With a team of young players, the Lions will be looking for leadership from players like Ware when it plays its conference schedule next season.
“I’m looking for a sack record, all conference during my first year in the SIAC and to be a better leader,” Ware said. “We can’t do anything but get better. We are expecting big things for ourselves next year.”
Ruffin called it the team’s most cohesive game.
“The guys came out and set the tone early. We were flying around on defense and the guys were making plays,” Ruffin said. “We were hitting on all cylinders. We have depth on this ball club. Our backup quarterback came in and did a great job for us.”