The stage was set for misfortune at Lakeside Stadium on Friday, but the Panthers (4-2, 2-2 in Region 3-AAAA) defied fate en route to a 36-8 victory over the Josey Eagles (0-7, 0-5).
Playing its homecoming game on Friday the 13th, Lakeside faced a Josey team hungry to avenge a loss last week to Glenn Hills, which hadn't won a game in almost three years.
For Lakeside, it proved to be a chance to showcase some of its established stars, and at the same time, test the waters with a few new faces.
Russell Gambrell rushed for 100 yards in the first half on nine carries, including a 21-yard touchdown run for on the game's initial drive, but carried the ball only twice in the second half. Junior Quinton Taylor entered the game in the third quarter and gained 93 yards on 12 carries, scoring on runs of 5 yards and 1 yard.
Nick Edmond, who usually plays a key role in the Lakeside offense, scored on an 11-yard run late in the first quarter to put Lakeside ahead 14-0. However, he saw no action in the second half due to nagging injuries. Lakeside coach Steve Crislip shifted back and forth between quarterbacks Joseph Humphrey and Brant Evans throughout the game.
"We had a lot of injured players this week, and we were trying to let them play as long as they could," Crislip said. "Both quarterbacks were playing on defense as well, and we were trying to give them a break."
Evans replaced Humphrey at the beginning of the second quarter and completed his first three passes. The first two went to Brian Johnson, while Steven Lewis caught the third for the game's only touchdown pass to give Lakeside a 21-0 edge.
Midway through the second quarter, Josey began showing some signs of life. Left-handed quarterback Aanez Clark completed a 36-yard pass to Alton Webb to set up the Eagles' only score of the game, an 8-yard run by Bryce Doe. Clark ran the two-point conversion in to cut the lead to 21-8.
Lakeside fumbled on its next possession, and Josey took over at the Lakeside 43 near the end of the half. Clark connected on a 27-yard strike to Anthony Hawes on fourth and 10 to put Josey on the 8-yard line. However, Clark threw an incomplete pass into the end zone as time ran out both on the clock and on Josey's hopes.
The Panthers went to Taylor repeatedly in the second half, and the Josey defense failed to stop him. The closest the Eagles got to scoring after their heartbreak at the end of the first half was the Lakeside 32-yard line, where they failed to convert on fourth down again early in the fourth quarter. After Taylor's two third-quarter touchdown runs, Lakeside scored its final points on a 29-yard field goal by Jonathan Wilson with five minutes left in the game.
"This was Gambrell's first game at full speed," Crislip said. "We're still trying to get him in shape. Taylor just runs hard all the time. Sometimes he runs so hard he doesn't know where he's going."
Lakeside visits Butler next week, while Josey travels to Statesboro.