When the ball floated and fell into Danye Washington’s hands, Laney’s defense went from gaffe to game-clincher on consecutive plays.
After allowing a 92-yard screen pass the previous drive, the Wildcats’ defense made up for its one big mistake of the game by intercepting a pass to secure a 18-13 win against Cook in the first round of the Class AA state playoffs Friday night.
Laney will play at home again in the second round next Friday.
“I felt like we missed five INTs,” Laney coach Lemuel Lackey said. “Just to see them come through right there in the end, it was fitting.”
Region 3-AA champion Laney (9-2) had 429 yards on offense. However, a few drives stalled with fourth-down stops or turnovers, forcing the Wildcats to need a late stand to survive despite once leading 18-7.
Laney quarterback Horatio Keller had 176 passing yards and 152 yards on the ground.
The Hornets (6-5), who recorded 182 fewer yards of offense than Laney, scored the game’s first touchdown and got the long screen touchdown by Jay Smith.
The Wildcats, who had posted three shutouts in a row, recovered the onside kick, but Keller threw an interception on third down.
Washington’s interception on the next play gave Laney the ball back.
“I wanted to get the ball so we could kneel it and win the game,” Washington said.
For all of perhaps two plays, Laney’s defense was a force. Though the Wildcats were beaten on fourth down prior to a short touchdown run in the first quarter, they closed the first half by forcing three punts and making an interception.
The defense was at its best when in a tough spot. After Laney muffed a punt, Cook had the ball at the Wildcats’ 24 with 1:03 remaining in the second quarter.
But on second down, Curtis Hightower Jr. snagged an interception to preserve the 12-7 lead.
The Wildcats’ offense woke up after a poor start. Once down 7-0, Laney engineered two touchdown drives helped by a couple of Vicente Thompkins receptions and a 46-yard run by Keller. Keller had 82 passing yards, 69 rushing yards and accounted for two touchdowns in the first half. He had another scoring run in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats moved the bell well enough to threaten for more points, but the defense made sure Laney advanced anyway with the late interception.
“I’m just happy to get the win,” Lackey said. “We move on. That’s all it’s about right now.