Garner answers Leesville Road challenge to advance to semifinals

cbest@newsobserver.comNovember 17, 2012 

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Garner's Leesville Road's during the first half, of the third round of the 4AA state playoffs Friday, November 16, 2012, at Garner High School.

TRAVIS LONG — tlong@newsobserver.com

— Garner downed Leesville Road 56-35, to advance to the 4AA eastern regional championship game next week. Garner (14-0) will meet Fayetteville Jack Britt for the second straight year in the regional round.

The football playoffs bring only one guarantee a week – the chance to play another 48 minutes. And few teams have taken advantage of that opportunity as much as Garner has.

The Trojans did it again Friday night, downing Leesville Road 56-35, to advance to the 4AA Eastern Regional championship game next week. Garner (14-0) will meet Fayetteville Jack Britt for the second straight year in the regional round.

Britt took a wild 56-52 win over Richmond County Friday night.

Garner jumped out to a 35-7 lead only to see the Pride (12-1) close to 42-35 in the fourth quarter.

Big plays by seniors Armani Lanier and Raevon Smith helped the Trojans turn away the late rally attempt.

“Coach Smith has preached to us every single week – there’s only 48 minutes left,” Lanier said. “You’ve got to treat it that way every time out. We hit the field knowing the next 48 minutes we play has to be our best.”

After Braxton Berrios’ third TD catch of the night pulled the Pride to within 42-35 with 7:07 to play, Smith returned the ensuing kick off 56 yards to the Leesville 24-yard-line.

“Raevon Smith is playing his best football of the season right now,” Smith said. “Leesville Road is right back in it and he breaks off a big kick off return. He’s a senior, doing what you want seniors to do in the playoffs.”

The Trojans kept the ball in Smith’s hands on each of the next three plays, the last a 2-yard TD run for a 49-35 lead with 5:47 to play.

On the Pride’s next drive, Garner’s swarming defense forced Leesville into a fourth-and-23. Quarterback Evan Parker had to scramble out of the pocket before getting a pass away.

But Lanier darted to the ball before a Pride receiver could. He intercepted the pass at the 22-yard-line and scored his fourth TD of the night, churning his way by the Leesville offensive players turned defenders and lunging into the end zone to take the lead back to 21 points.

“Our defensive backs have come through,” Smith said. “They had the returns for touchdowns last night and big plays tonight. Armani’s interception was big. It gave us a little lift when we really needed it.”

Lanier finished with 146 yards receiving and three catches for scores. Garner quarterback Vince Jeffries was 11-of-17 for 295 yards and five TDs.

“Those two have been a big play combo all season,” Smith said of Jeffries and Lanier. “They did a lot of that tonight.”

Garner jumped to the lead on the sixth play of the game with Raevon Smith pulling in a 30-yard strike from Vince Jeffries. Jeffries’ lofted pass dropped right over Smith’s shoulder and into his hands near the back of the end zone for a 7-0 lead with 8:44 to play in the quarter.

Leesville Road came right back with its leading scorer, Berrios, covering all 66 yards of the Pride’s first scoring drive on two short spot passes. The second one he turned into a 56-yard catch-and-run TD to tie things up seconds later.

Berrios finished with 183 yards receiving and 11 catches.

Garner went back to the air on its next drive with Armani Lanier grabbing a short slant pass from Jeffries, then racing back and forth across the field weaving through the Leesville defense on what became a 62-yard catch-and-run TD.

“That’s been a really good play for us,” Lanier said. “Vince just told me in the huddle to get there and the ball would be there. I got it and just started cutting, fortunately I was able to get away from everybody.”

The Trojans’ defense asserted itself on the next three Pride drives. The first break of the game came when Garner’s Samuel Stidwell recovered a fumble near midfield.

Garner turned that break into a nine-play scoring drive with Jeffries going to Lanier again. This time on a fade route in the back corner of the end zone.

Lanier outlept the solid Leesville coverage and grabbed the ball one-handed while getting a foot in bound for the score and a 21-7 lead late in the first quarter.

“It’s a tough place to play,” said Leesville Road coach Chad Smothers. “They generate a lot of momentum from their fans and they kind of got off to a quick start. They have weapons all over the place. We knew their wide receivers can run and Jeffries was really on target.”

Tackles for losses by Jeremie Bolobiongo and Tyler Starowicz as well as a Starowicz sack led to back-to-back three-and-out possessions by the Pride.

Lanier grabbed a 33-yard pass from Jeffries for Garner’s fourth TD.

Leesville Road tried a fake punt run after Starowicz’s sack but the Trojans held. That led to a 1-yard TD run by Tyler Hinton and a 35-7 lead with 5:10 in the half.

Brock Pyper cut the lead to 35-14 on a 41-yard pass from Parker late in the half.

“We’ve been real good at coming out with that quick tempo and having a good possession to start the game,” Smith said. “We got away from that to start the second half, trying to take some time off of the clock and it hurt us.”

Berrios scored on a 14-yard pass to start the second-half scoring and the two teams traded punts, which left Garner at its own 10-yard-line.

But Jeffries was right on target, hitting a streaking Nyheim Hines down the right sideline on a 90-yard catch-and-run touchdown to push the lead back to 42-21.

“The pass to Nyheim was a great play by our guys,” Smith said. “They were shifting a lot of things toward Armani and we were able to get Nyheim open an Vince hit him in stride.”

Leesville got within 42-28 early in the fourth quarter on a 4-yard TD run by Maurice Lauchner. The Pride went with an onside kick, which Selo Kuvana covered. That set up Berrios’ aforementioned TD that cut the lead to seven points.

“Leesville just kept coming,” Smith said. “You can tell they’re champions, the way they came out in the second half. They played all night to win the football game.”

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