When Johnathan Long emerged from the end zone and found a hole, he knew he had a chance for a 99-yard touchdown run.
The Lakeside back already had logged more than 30 carries, but he managed to out-sprint a defender with the help of some inspirational words.
“One of my favorite quotes, man: Herschel Walker, he said, ‘The ball ain’t heavy, right?’” the senior said.
“I ran all summer for this,” he added. “I’m conditioned for this. I’m prepared for it.”
Long’s career performance, plus a strong defensive effort, lifted the Panthers to a 33-12 win over visiting Brunswick on Friday night in a Region 2-AAAA play-in game.
With the victory, the Panthers are headed back to the state playoffs after missing out last year. They earned a
No. 3 seed and will travel to Warner Robins next Friday.
“Our kids are sick and tired of being told that they can’t play football in Columbia County, and there’s no football in the Augusta area,” Lakeside head coach Jarrett Troxler said. “It’s not that it was Brunswick saying that, but around the state. Our kids get tired of hearing that, and I get tired of hearing that.”
Long finished with 33 carries for 244 yards and scored three times. His team needed it on a night when it didn’t complete a pass.
Lakeside (6-4) took it to Brunswick (4-6) from the start when Long followed a Pirate fumble with a 15-yard scoring run.
Brunswick got within a point on Jarvis Small’s 27-yard touchdown run, but the rest of the half went the Panthers’ way.
They got 1-yard touchdown runs from Long and quarterback Mark Weidenaar; two interceptions from Danny Leonardi; a safety when the defense tackled Small in the end zone; and a 40-yard field goal from Eric Preheim.
It added up to a 26-6 halftime lead.
Brunswick started strong in the second half, and quarterback Cory Dixon’s 1-yard plunge brought the Pirates within 14 points late in the third quarter.
However, every time the Pirates seemed ready to steal the momentum, the Panther defense held tough.
Lakeside forced a turnover on downs four times. The most pivotal one came early in the fourth quarter, after Brunswick used a pair of fourth-and-long conversions to set up first-and-goal from the Lakeside 3-yard line.
The Panthers’ defense held, opening the door for Long’s 99-yarder.