In a border war dominated by big plays, North Augusta brought just enough firepower across the river to even the score - and then some.
North Augusta scored 15 points in the final 2:23 to rally for a 40-33 victory at Lakeside on Friday, avenging a costly loss to the Panthers on a goal-line stand a year ago.
"This was big-time," said junior Frayne Abernathy, who made the most of his share in the Yellow Jackets' quarterback shuffle by passing for one touchdown and setting up another in the closing minutes. "They were the team that kept us out of the playoffs last year, and we wanted to get them back."
North Augusta (3-0) got its usual production from senior running back Reggie Merriweather, who rushed 24 times for 184 yards and four touchdowns including the tiebreaker from 6 yards with 1:06 left. But Merriweather showed his versatility by catching four passes for 56 yards on the 13-play, 80-yard drive that tied the game with 2:23 remaining.
The Yellow Jackets converted three long third downs on the series, including one on a pass interference penalty on Lakeside that erased a third-and-23 situation.
With the score tied at 33, Lakeside's Steven Rogers fumbled while fighting for extra yards on the kickoff return, setting up North Augusta at the 32 to spark the winning drive.
"I cannot believe it," said North Augusta coach Joe Long. "I don't know how we did it. I guess a lot of people thought we were out of it. We were very fortunate to win."
Lakeside (0-2) was primed to win after Quinton Taylor took a pitch and burst 72 yards up the right sideline for a touchdown that made it 33-25 halfway through the fourth quarter. First-year Lakeside head coach Ed Koester walked up and down the sideline imploring his players to "go for the neck" and finish the visitors off.
"You're inches away from finishing; you've got to finish it," Koester said.
Lakeside quarterback Klay Koester threw for 215 yards, 181 of them on 10 completions to Rogers. But Lakeside didn't have enough balance to offset North Augusta's 383 total yards.
Lakeside dominated the early minutes of the game, shutting down Merriweather while holding North Augusta to 2 yards and one turnover on its first three offensive possessions.
The Panthers capitalized on Merriweather's fumble immediately following a Lakeside field goal and built a 10-0 lead in a two-minute span after Matt Nixon's 13-yard touchdown run.
But Merriweather could not be contained forever and needed only 14 seconds to prove it. On his first carry of the next possession, he broke loose left and sprinted untouched for a 64-yard touchdown.
Suddenly it was the Jackets' who were dominating, forcing punts and an interception on four straight Panther possessions.
A 36-yard Abernathy to Zac Cooper completion set up Abernathy's 13-yard touchdown run and a 13-10 North Augusta lead with 8:15 left in the second quarter.
Two series later, after a North Augusta missed field goal, Abernathy led another scoring drive with completions of 19 and 15 yards to reach the goal line. Merriweather took it in for a 19-10 lead with 42 seconds left in the half.
But Lakeside didn't buckle, as Steven Rogers streaked past cornerback Richie Williams for a 68-yard completion from Klay Koester before being dragged down by Williams at the Yellow Jackets 5. A penalty and sack pushed Lakeside back to the 22 before Koester hit Rogers open in the end zone behind Williams again to draw to 19-16 just three seconds before halftime.
Lakeside carried the momentum through the third quarter to build a 26-19 lead.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219.