No matter what conference or classification the teams are in, football games between Lee County and Athens Drive always seem to go down to the wire.
Lee County left Williams Stadium with a 13-7 victory on Friday thanks to a defensive effort that snuffed five second-half Jaguars drives inside Yellow Jackets territory – four fourth-down stops and one turnover – in what was a scoreless second half.
It’s the sixth time in their past seven meetings the two schools have played to a score decided by eight points or less.
“We played with a lot of character. We had a lot of injuries this week and we had some players who stepped up and played well,” said Lee County coach Burton Cates. “I would hate to mention one or two (defenders) because they all played so well.”
Lee County (3-0), a 3A member of the Cape Fear Valley Conference, often used workhorse running back Jerry Pullum (23 carries, 97 yards, one touchdown).
He ripped off a 26-yard scoring run in the second quarter (the extra point was blocked by Athens’ Brock Martin), but Pullum’s game-saving play came on the other side of the ball.
With starting safety Duane’ Bland cramping, Pullum subbed in and picked off the Jags’ pass in the end zone in the final minute.
“I was willing. This game meant a lot to me, so I wanted to be the person to step up and make big plays,” Pullum said.
One play before his touchdown run, Pullum had a 19-yard run called back because he hurdled a player – a 15-yard penalty from the spot per National Federation of High Schools rules.
“I never knew” it was a penalty, Pullum said. “When I got flagged I thought it was a block in the back or something and they said it was a flag for jumping. And I jumped out of bounds so I didn’t know it would be a penalty.”
Athens Drive (1-2), a 4A member of the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference, got an all-around peformance from running back Jamie Barnes (22 carries, 118 yards, one touchdown).
Barnes scored on a 4-yard run on the first play of the second quarter to tie the game at 7-all. He added an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Brock Martin also added an interception.
The Jags’ defense “played outstanding in the second half,” Athens head coach Chris Martin said. “We had opportunities. ... and we just didn’t make it happen. We let some opportunities go.”
After recovering an Athens fumble, Lee scored on its second drive, a 1-yard run from Bubba Wilson, to take a 7-0 lead.
Lee had just 52 yards in the air but added 150 on the ground. The Jags’ Otumous Payemanu threw for 183 yards.
Lee County had not beaten Athens since 2010. It was the first win for Lee assistant Jeff Smouse since he retired as Jaguars head coach following the 2011 season.
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