A back-and-forth first half turned into a defensive battle in the second half, and a mistake by Lamar in its own end zone ultimately proved the difference.
With the game tied 22-22 in the waning minutes, the Raiders took over on offense with a chance to put together a winning drive against Starkville Academy Friday night in the quarterfinal round of the MAIS Class 5A postseason after the Volunteers missed a 33-yard field goal attempt. A bad snap, though, went sailing over quarterback Zagar Cooper’s head and set Lamar back all the way on its own 1-yard line.
With 34.8 seconds remaining, an intentional grounding penalty by Lamar in its own end zone gave Starkville Academy a safety and a 24-22 lead. Despite the Raiders recovering the ensuing onside kick, Lamar was unable to get the ball in the end zone, giving the Volunteers the two-point win.
The Raiders lost four fumbles and threw two interceptions, and Lamar head coach Mac Barnes said the turnovers proved costly, even though the Lamar defense was able to come away with several turnovers of its own.
“We did some really good things, it’s just hard to describe to people the pressure of a do-or-die game,” Barnes said. “What you’ll notice is a lot of times the first half is played pretty good, and then the closer (the end of the game) gets, things get tighter and tighter and nobody scores. I hate for our guys that they lost, because they’ve been used to winning, but very few teams ever have the chance to experience three championships in a row. We’re thankful for that and for being 8-4 this year and winning our division, and we have some great guys that are going to move on and be productive citizens and some great guys coming back next year.”
Lamar scored first after a 22-yard interception return by Tim Seymour put the Raiders on the Starkville 2 with 5:26 left in the first. Cooper took a quarterback keeper into the end zone on the next play, and the two-point pass from Will Morris to Miller Hodge gave Lamar an 8-0 lead.
Starkville’s CJ Jackson scored with 2:25 left in the first on a 1-yard carry, and the two-point run tied the game 8-8. Lamar retook the lead with 11.2 seconds remaining in the first on a 7-yard run by Brandrick Thomas. Cooper’s PAT was good, and Lamar led 15-8 after one.
The Volunteers scored twice in the second quarter to jump ahead 22-15, but a 12-yard run by Jacob Partridge on a reverse and the PAT by Cooper tied the score 22-22 with 5:46 left in the first half.
Neither team scored in the third quarter and most of the fourth quarter before the safety on the intentional grounding penalty.
Lamar’s Daulton Nelson tallied 93 of his team’s 148 rushing yards, and Thomas added 39 yards on seven rushes. Partridge had more than 100 yards receiving, and Lamar finished 13 of 22 passing for 284 yards and two interceptions.
Temperatures were in the 30s throughout the contest, but Barnes said the weather wasn’t a factor in the final outcome.
“You don’t even feel the temperature out there tonight,” Barnes said. “Both teams laid it on the line, and you saw two teams really bust their tails.”
Lamar finished the season 8-4, and while it’s not the ending the Raiders wanted, Barnes made sure to let his appreciation for the players’ and coaches’ hard work be known.
“I told them I was proud of them, and you learn to deal with pain other than trying to mask it,” Barnes said. “If you try as hard as you can and you lose, if it hurts, good, because that means they care. So you have to learn how to deal with it and move on. That’s the great thing about football, and I know of nothing else that I’ve ever done that teaches that.”