Paine stayed within striking distance throughout but lost to Georgia Prep Sports Academy 20-13 on Saturday at Lucy C. Laney Memorial Stadium.
Head coach Greg Ruffin described Paine’s first game as a building effort, with bright spots to be proud of and other areas where more work is needed.
“We played like it was the first game in 51 years,” he said. “It’s hard to beat a team with so many turnovers. Overall, you can see the skill set of our football team. We have something to build on.”
Paine fumbled four times and threw two interceptions, as well as giving up handfuls of sacks and hurries on quarterback Loranzo Hammonds, a former North Augusta standout.
But Paine’s defense held strong despite being on the field for extended periods of time. It allowed only 14 points through three quarters, and the Lions remained within a touchdown throughout the second half.
“I think we stepped up defensively in the second half,” Ruffin said. “The kids fought to the end. I was proud of the effort.”
Atlanta-based Georgia Prep scored first on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Jonquel Dowson to K.J. McMillian on its first drive. Paine answered with its first touchdown on an 18-yard run by Hammonds late in the first quarter.
The only score for the next two quarters was a 23-yard touchdown pass and two-point conversion from Oshay Carter to Donte Johnson late in the second, giving Georgia Prep a 14-7 lead.
Paine’s big strike came with 10 minutes left when Hammonds found Danny Wohlgemuth on a 43-yard touchdown pass. But the Lions’ extra point failed, allowing Georgia Prep to keep a one-point lead.
Georgia Prep sealed the win with a 37-yard touchdown pass from Carter to McMillian with 2 minutes remaining.
“That was a real big touchdown,” Georgia Prep coach Michael Carson said. “We had to get some distance between us.”
Hammonds went 12 for 19 for 135 yards while running for 43, totaling two touchdowns. Jarius Richardson led Paine with 107 rushing yards on 16 carries.
Local products filled Paine’s roster, but former Swainsboro star Rico Johnson had one carry and one catch for Georgia Prep.
Attendance was a strong point for Paine, with the home stands filled with Lions fans who remained in the game throughout. The crowd grew as the first half progressed, and the front gate was covered in tailgating prior to the game.
“A lot of people were behind Paine today, and I like that,” Hammonds said. “I’m excited about that, and it looked good.”