Luella Lions senior tailback Dejon Conway spent last week learning from his mistakes.
After being bottled up by a tough Cartersville defensive front, he made sure to spend extra time at practice working with his offensive line. The goal was to develop a deeper chemistry and a different approach in the run game.
On Friday night, the hard work paid off as Conway led the Lions to a 44-37 overtime victory over the McIntosh Chiefs. Conway dazzled all night as he willed the Lions back from a 23-7 halftime deficit. He finished with over 200 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns, including a game-tying 5-yard touchdown with 0.9 seconds left in regulation.
“We really came together and the (offensive) line blocked well,” Conway said. “We did our assignments and came out with the win.”
Luella won its first game of the season and built momentum heading into next week against Druid Hills. It wasn’t easy as McIntosh controlled much of the game.
The Lions scrapped back, outscoring the Chiefs 37 to 14 in the second half. Sophomore quarterback Jalen Doby capped the win by scoring a 2-yard touchdown on a sneak in the first possession of overtime.
“It means a lot and it is a big turning point,” Luella head coach Jason Jackson said. “It is one of those situations where you keep doing the work and all of sudden the work finally pays off. At this point, we keep working and keep building now that we know what it is like to win.”
McIntosh fell to 1-3 on the season. After jumping out to a hot start, things unraveled for the Chiefs down the stretch.
The Chiefs quickly marched down the field behind star quarterback Dane Kinamon. Kinamon, who missed the last two games, started at running back due to injury. He played the perfect foil to Conway as he carved up the Lions defense rushing for 289 yards on 32 carries with 3 touchdowns. Kinamon also caught a spectacular 20-yard touchdown pass over his head to give McIntosh an early lead 14-0.
The Chiefs scored on their first three drives as Kinamon ended the third drive with a 14-yard touchdown run up the middle. Two drives later, Adrien Richez added a 38-yard field goal as the Chiefs held a 23-0 advantage.
The hot start dissipated as Luella got back into the game. Conway ignited the offense as he broke through with a 58-yard touchdown. He took a handoff, made two defenders miss and scampered down the sideline. The touchdown was the Lions first of the season.
The touchdown was a key point in the game. It gave the Lions momentum going into halftime down 23-7. Belknap thought the late score was big as his team just didn’t keep up the constant pressure.
“I feel like our kids played hard tonight and we were in the ball game the entire time,” Belknap said. “We didn’t keep our foot on the gas after halftime and I think that was the difference in the game.”
In the second half, Doby went to work and orchestrated the offense with deep shots to receiver Lamar Overton.
The duo connected for over 100 yards and started the third quarter with a 42-yard reception. The pass set up Conway to score a 6-yard touchdown as the lead dwindled to 23-15. The lone score allowed McIntosh to hold the lead going into the final frame.
Kinamon got things started in the fourth quarter with a 44-yard touchdown. Once he crossed the goal line, the entire home crowd let out a sigh of relief. This pushed the lead to 30-15 midway through the quarter.
Still, the Lions wouldn’t go away. They forced back-to-back fumbles with less than eight minutes remaining in the game. The two big turnovers were crucial as they scored on both possessions.
Conway added a 61-yard touchdown, where he ran through five arm tackles and spun his way into the end zone. Overton followed as he caught a 74-yard touchdown to tie the game at 30 apiece.
“I was glad he caught it,” Jackson said. “We all know Lamar (Overton) has the ability and he just needed some confidence. Tonight, him catching the football the first time gave him that confidence.”
With the game tied, there was an utter silence on the McIntosh sideline. The Chiefs fans were stunned that the lead evaporated in a matter of minutes. An exhausted Chief defense struggled to make plays and that left the team in a tough predicament.
“We really didn’t change anything with the way we called plays offensively or defensively,” Belknap said. “We just didn’t make the plays and didn’t execute when we had to. Several big plays by their offense put us in a bind.”
The Chief offense didn’t go down quietly. Their stable of running backs in Ryan Cate, Jacob Woods, and Ben Anderson got going late in the game. After collecting three first downs, the Chiefs were knocking on the door with 30 seconds left.
As the Chiefs lined up, the ball went to Kinamon, who scored his third rushing touchdown from the 6-yard line. McIntosh went up 37-30 as the crowd erupted again.
“(Kinamon) is just a warrior and will do anything to help the football team,” Belknap said. “He had a tremendous night and is a tremendous kid with great character. He has a heart like a lion.”
The celebration was short lived. The Lions came roaring back when Overton broke free for a 70-yard reception. He had six catches for 182 yards on the night. This set up Conway and set the game to overtime.
After Doby scored the overtime touchdown, the Chiefs had four chances from the 15-yard line. They couldn’t score as sophomore quarterback Hayes Herzog was sacked by Lions defensive tackle Tarnue Borbor. On fourth down, Herzog didn’t connect with Kinamon as the Lions escaped with the win.
Despite the loss, Belknap said the Chiefs will learn from the game. McIntosh has dealt with adversity before and get a week off before facing Riverdale on Sept. 20.
“I told them that sometimes you win and sometimes you learn,” Belknap said. “It was certainly a lot that happened tonight that we have to learn from to get to where we want to be later in the football season.”
Luella returns home with a lot of confidence. Jackson said they will enjoy it before getting back to work on Monday.
“It means a lot to me, but more importantly it means a lot to our community and our kids,” Jackson said.
To see more photos from the game, click here.