Landmark’s run ends in quarterfinals loss to Prince Ave.

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Joey Blount (left) and Tom Austin (right) accounted for Landmark Christian’s only points in a 27-10 quarterfinals loss to Prince Avenue Christian Friday night. (Staff Photos by Christopher Dunn)

img_9410by Rob Grubbs

Sometimes, the other team is just a little better. Such was the case as the Landmark Christian War Eagles traveled to Athens to face the undefeated Prince Avenue Christian Wolverines on Friday night in the quarterfinals of the GHSA Class A private football playoffs. While playing valiantly and holding the lead into the third quarter, the War Eagle defense wore down slightly, just enough to allow the Wolverines two quick scoring drives on their way to a 27-10 final which ended the War Eagle season at 11-2.
The Wolverines opened quickly with a mixture of run and pass plays to cover the length of the field in eight plays for a 7-0 lead in less than four minutes, the touchdown coming on a 40-yard pass from Grant Roland to Christian Parris.
With a cool autumn breeze picking up, the War Eagles felt the pressure to respond or the game would be out of reach quickly and they would be facing a long offseason. This is a Landmark team that has responded all season, especially when they needed it most. They embarked on an equally impressive opening drive of 74 yards, which included a 27-yard pass from Joey Blount to Nick Toomer for a huge third down conversion, and a 29-yard pass from Blount to a diving Luke McLain to set up first and goal. Lofton Tidwell scored the touchdown which declared the War Eagles came to play and were not intimidated by the Wolverines.
With momentum gained from the offense, the defensive play grew more inspired, as the defensive line, led by Al Hogan and Dylan Gabrielson pressured Roland and the Wolverine offense for a quick three and out and immediately regained possession.  The War Eagle offense picked right back up, hitting on a 49-yard pass from Blount to Toomer, again on third down, and moved quickly into Wolverine territory. With the drive stalling on the 15 yard line, Tom Austin pegged a 38-yard field goal for the 10-7 lead right as the first quarter ended. Little would anyone know, but these would be the last points of the War Eagle 2016 season.
The second quarter was a defensive coach’s clinic, as both teams came up with third down stops and forced punts. Landmark punted three times and Prince Avenue punted twice. Blount had an interception of a Roland pass near midfield, but the War Eagle offense could not convert the turnover into points. Both teams went into the locker room with the score at 10-7.
Landmark would receive the second half kickoff, and, after starting deep in their own territory, Tidwell carried the ball three consecutive plays for 24 yards and had the offense moving towards midfield, but they were forced to punt.
On Prince Avenue’s first possession of the second half, the Wolverines made an adjustment to their offense by replacing Roland at quarterback and their first half offensive philosophy with Noah Campbell in the wildcat formation. After some initial confusion on their part, including a delay of game penalty on first down, the Wolverines ignited behind the quickness of Campbell and scored to take the lead in only four plays, all on the ground, for the 14-10 lead midway through the third quarter.
The move completely changed the complexion of the game as Landmark could not match the score on their next drive and punted back to the Wolverines, who this time needed only three plays, again all on the ground, for their second touchdown in three minutes. After a missed extra point, Landmark was looking at a 20-10 deficit and a Wolverine offense that had completely redefined itself during halftime. The Landmark defense would steady itself late in the third quarter, getting an interception by Toomer on the only pass the Wolverines would throw in the second half, but the damage had been done. The hill that Landmark was trying to climb now was getting higher, and the clock was becoming an equally determined foe against them as the Wolverine offense was.
After the interception, Landmark took possession to start the fourth quarter, and the sense from the sideline was apparent that to stay in the game, Landmark had to get points to keep the game at one possession and find a way to win at the end. That strategy worked to perfection the previous week against Darlington, but the drive stalled quickly. Prince Avenue would follow with their third touchdown of the second half and the game was out of reach at 27-10.
With nothing left but pride and memories, the War Eagle defense returned to its earlier form and didn’t allow any further points as the season ended quietly with a Prince Avenue kneel down play. As the team gathered around head coach Wayne Brantley for the last time near the end zone, he encouraged them to remember the positives from the game and the season, which were many, and they left the field together defeated but not crushed, cast down but not destroyed.
As the curtain falls on the 2016 season, the War Eagles certainly have a lot to be proud off, playing deep into the third round of the playoffs and pushing perennial state power Prince Avenue deep into the fourth quarter, but the future looks equally as bright. With a nucleus built around Toomer, Hogan, Renzey Wilke, and Dalton Colburn, the War Eagles look to get right back in the mix next season. The key will be to replace the leadership provided by Tidwell, Blount, McLain, and Brandon Stone. There is little doubt Coach Brantley and the War Eagles are ready to get started on the 2017 season as soon as possible.

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