Lakeside was itching for a hot start in front of a packed homecoming crowd Friday night.
When South Effingham made an early mistake – a muffed punt – the Panthers got exactly what they were hoping for.
“Oh, man, it helps a lot,” Johnathan Long said after Lakeside’s 33-14 victory. “When we’re able to get the ball and drive it down and score first right away, it sets the tone for the whole game.
“We get the whole team hyped up, and the defense gets pumped up.”
The senior running back was the early catalyst, scoring on the first play after that miscue on an 18-yard jaunt.
On the heels of that early momentum, Lakeside shot out to a huge lead en route to the victory.
“I believe that our team has the ability to play with any team in the state of Georgia,” said Long, who had 139 of his 182 rushing yards and both of his touchdowns in the first half. “I really have confidence in our team, and I really have faith in our team. … I think we can go far.”
With the win, the Panthers (4-4, 3-1) maintained their spot at No. 2 in Region 2-AAAA. Their final subregion contest is Oct. 28, at home against Columbia County rival Evans.
When Long scored his second touchdown, on a 1-yard plunge with 3:09 to go before halftime, the Panthers led 26-0.
Senior quarterback Mark Weidenaar had scored on a 28-yard run in the first quarter and a 5-yard touchdown pass to Austen Townsend in the second.
The Panthers defense allowed only two first downs in the first half and consistently held standout back Joshua Mercer in check for most of the half.
However, the junior broke free for a 66-yard run to get the Mustangs (3-5, 2-2) on the board just before the half.
After a sluggish third quarter for both offenses, Mercer struck again early in the fourth.
On a fourth-and-2, Mercer broke free from a tackle on a run outside and went 42 yards to the Lakeside 3-yard line. South Effingham was 4-for-4 on fourth down attempts on the night.
He scored on the next play to get his team within 26-14.
“It was a good spark for the offense, and the defense as well,” Mercer said of both of his long runs.
Mercer carried 22 times for 156 yards. The rest of the offense had 30 yards.
Weidenaar had 112 of Lakeside’s 337 rushing yards and added 129 passing yards.