Lithia Springs holds off Grady comeback for first win of season

Alex Langan, Assistant Managing Editor, Sports

In a battle of two winless regional rivals, the Knights (now 0-3) lost to the Lions (now 1-3) 22-20 at Lakewood Stadium after a failed two-point conversion, blocked field goal and turnovers on downs plagued Grady. This is just the Lions’ third win since the start of the 2013 season.

The game, which was originally scheduled for Thu. was moved to Sat. after Atlanta Public School closures from Mon. to Wed. prevented Grady from having official practices. Lithia Springs, which is a part of the Douglas County School System, was closed on Mon. and Tue.

Lithia Springs struck quickly, scoring on their first two possessions and converting their two point conversions to get a 16-0 lead, taking advantage of a blocked field goal attempt by senior kicker Quinn Cowden, which would later prove to be a crucial three points.

“When it came off my foot, I knew it was going in,” Cowden said. “They just got off our blocks and went up and blocked it.”

Grady struck back, however, as sophomore quarterback Aquinas Stillwell threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Zaire Thornton with six seconds left in the first quarter. After the extra point, Grady was down 16-7.

The Lions answered back, scoring on a 73-yard touchdown run by senior running back James Woods. Lithia Springs again attempted a two point conversion, this time, however the Knights stopped the direct snap to Woods short of the goal line, setting the score at 22-7 in favor of Lithia Springs.

On the ensuing kickoff, Lithia Springs attempted an onside kick, however, the Knights recovered, setting them up at the Lions 44-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Stillwell again found Thornton, who made a difficult catch before being tackled at the 13-yard line. Senior running back Craig Philpot did the rest, picking up an 11-yard run for first and goal, and a 4-yard touchdown run, to cut the deficit to 22-14 in favor of the Lions.

Lithia Springs again drove the ball down the field, however, the Knights defense forced a turnover on downs after senior quarterback Nanakofi Sarpong failed to find a target in the end zone on fourth down, giving Grady the ball at its own 29 yard line with 6:40 left in the first half.

After a quick three and out by the Knights offense, the Lions took over at their own 20 yard line. Despite penalties forcing the Lithia Springs shotgun snaps into their own endzone, the Lions advanced to the Grady 1-yard line after a couple balls up for grabs and a hook and ladder slid past the Grady defense. However, the clock expired, as the time wasted by penalties early in the drive helped to prevent a possible score.

Grady started the at their own 44 yard line after a nice return on the second half kickoff. Philpot again torched the Lions defense for a 21 yard run. The Lions defense forced another stop, taking over at their own 35 after a turnover on downs. Grady forced a turnover on downs of their own, taking over at their 45 after Lions only picked up one first down.

A third straight turnover on downs was nearly forced, but Philpot again found a hole, running all the way to the Lions 25. The aforementioned turnover on downs did, however, end up coming into fruition after the Lithia Springs secondary didn’t allow any open receivers, forcing a sack of Stillwell on fourth down at the 24.

The Knights forced a punt, giving them the ball at their own 22 with 1:11 left in the 3rd quarter. After Philpot ran the Knights back on the Lions half of the field, the Lithia Springs secondary again came up big, intercepting Stillwell at the goal and returning it to their own 40 yard line.

After picking up a first down on a Woods direct snap, the Lions attempted to repeat their tactic with one direct snap each to sophomore running back Michael Wilson and Woods. The Knights however, blew up these plays for only short gains. Lithia Springs then faced a 4th and 1 situation after sophomore receiver Davyon Dukes took the handoff and to the 24 yard line.

After an offsides penalty on the offense, the yardage needed to pick up the first down became six. The Lions elected to go for it, however Sarpong was intercepted by freshman cornerback Bobby Sims, who was tackled at the Lions 15 yard line after nearly taking it to the house.

After a fumble on the handoff was recovered by Grady on the first play of the ensuing drive, the Knights again let Philpot go to work, running 14 yards for a first down and then 4 yards for a touchdown. Needing two points to tie, the Knights needed to go for two with only 5:19 left. The Lions again covered up receivers, forcing a Stillwell scramble which was stopped just short of the goal line, giving the Knights a 22-20 deficit.

After the Knights forced a three and out, Lithia Springs punted. After a return to the 42 of Grady with 3:06 left, the Knights needed a field goal at least for a win. After a six yard run and a seven yard run by Philpot, the Knights picked up a first down. Grady again leaned on Philpot on first down, handing him the ball for a five yard gain.

After senior running back Jalen Ware was stuffed for no gain on second down, the Knights felt the need to pick up the pace, with Stillwell throwing a pass intended for senior receiver Du’jwan Washington that fell incomplete.

Needing a first down to stay in the game, the Knights went for on fourth down, however they failed to convert after a collision between Thornton and the Lions cornerback allowed the pass to sail a dozen yards over their heads , giving the Lions the ball at their own 40 yard line with 57 seconds left. Lithia Springs promptly ran the clock out before a Gatorade shower over coach Kevin Hill cemented the Lions’ first win of the year.

Next week, the Knights hope to change their fortunes on the road against regional foe Decatur (1-3).