JOHNSTON, S.C. - Lemuel Lackey is Laney's defensive coordinator.
But chat him up and he's all Georgia Bulldog, with a healthy dash of Georgia Southern alumni pride on the side.
That's why what he said Friday at Strom Thurmond was so perfect after Laney's 21-15 comeback win over the South Carolina Class AAA defending state champions.
"That was Erk Russell-style defense tonight," said Lackey, out of breath but with his arms raised high after the win. "Bend but don't break defense. That's the way Erk liked it."
Lackey's words hit the mark on the day Russell died, possibly from a stroke. The old coach became a Peach State legend by employing those sort of defenses at Georgia and in resurrecting the Georgia Southern program to championship heights 21 years ago.
The Wildcats protected their end zone in a way that would have been sure to earn a couple of the bloody head butts Russell was famous for sharing with deserving players. The Wildcats (2-0) allowed Strom Thurmond just 15 points to show for their six trips inside the 15-yard line. They allowed one touchdown, three field goals and pounced on two fumbles.
Laney junior Theo McNeal would've deserved one for the way he gutted his way back into the game. He was sidelined with a cramp of his right calf during a Laney fourth- quarter drive that made it 15-12.
"It was the worst pain in the world," McNeal said. "But the pain soon became my greatest moment on a football field so far because I sucked it up."
McNeal returned to the teeth of a Wildcats' defensive line trying to hold back a charging Strom Thurmond team down 21-15 with less than two minutes to go.
"One of my teammates from the right side (Maurice Murray) came down and hit their fullback as soon as they handed it off," McNeal said. "It fell right into my hands. I started to fumble it, but I was able fall on it."
He then charged off the field with the ball held high.
"Making a play like that is the greatest feeling in life," he said.
Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
LANEY 21, STROM THURMOND 15
PLAY OF THE GAME: Laney junior lineman Theo McNeal hopped on a fumble by the Rebels' Eric Curry at his own 11. Strom Thurmond had a first down with 1:55 to play at that point and was driving for the tying score.
WHY LANEY WON: The Wildcats played superior defense inside their 20. They turned back three Strom Thurmond drives and forced field goals.
WHY STROM THURMOND LOST: The Rebels couldn't sustain anything offensively except for Curry's 141 rushing yards. Two fumbles inside the Laney 20 also turned the game.
STAR OF THE GAME: 'Cats quarterback Chris Thomas broke out of funk that saw him misfire on nine consecutive throws. He completed his final nine passes of the game to spur the comeback.
WHAT'S NEXT: Laney (2-0) travels to Baldwin next week. Strom Thurmond (1-2) plays host to South Aiken.