Meadowcreek’s Laquan Johnson (7) celebrates with teammates after defeating Habersham Central 21-14 in high school football action in Norcross Friday. Meadowcreek wins for the first time since Sept. 5, 2008. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
NORCROSS — The end was almost anti-climactic. An incomplete spike pass on fourth down with 15 seconds left, and suddenly, it was over.
Even after Meadowcreek brought five years of frustration to a glorious end with a 21-14 homecoming win over Habersham Central on Friday at Meadowcreek Community Stadium, postgame performances by both bands quickly forced the Mustangs’ celebration off the field and into the lockerroom.
No matter. There was plenty of emotion for the Mustangs (1-5, 1-3 in Region 7-AAAAAA) ending their 53-game losing streak to go around.
“It still doesn’t feel real yet,” said a tearful senior receiver/defensive back Laquan Johnson, who had a huge game with a touchdown reception, an interception return for a touchdown and several pass break-ups to help the Mustangs post their first win since Sept. 5, 2008. “We’ve just been working hard since January just to get a win, and we finally got one.”
It didn’t take long to realize this might be the Mustangs’ night — just one snap, to be exact.
A bobbled Habersham handoff wound up on the ground at the Raiders’ 15-yard line, where Adeniyi Henderson-Harden scooped up the loose ball and dashed untouched into the end zone to give Meadowcreek a 7-0 lead just seven seconds after the opening kickoff.
Another big defensive play on Habersham’s next possession just over a minute later extended the Mustangs’ lead further.
This time, it was Johnson who ranged to his right to pick off a rainbow pass at the 19 before beating the Raider backfield into the end zone to make the score 14-0 with the game still just 1:25 old, and with the Meadowcreek offense still yet to take the field.
“It was something I never felt before,” said Meadowcreek senior running back Ryan Moore said of the quick lead.
And Moore was a big reason why the Mustangs never gave up that lead by running for 165 yards on 23 carries.
So was Johnson, who came up with another big play early in the second quarter that buoyed Meadowcreek’s confidence even further.
With the Mustangs facing third and 25, Kortez Towels eluded a heavy Habersham rush and found a wide-open Johnson behind the secondary for a 42-yard scoring strike to extend the lead to a whopping 21-0 with 10:42 left in the first half.
But there was still plenty of work to do.
Sydnee Mulligan burst through the line on fourth and 1 at the Raiders’ 32 and found daylight for a 68-yard touchdown run that got Habersham on the board, and cut the Meadowcreek lead to 21-7 with 2:37 left in the half. Mulligan finished the game with 180 yards on 35 carries.
Still, the Mustangs took that same lead, and plenty of confidence, into intermission.
And that confidence remained even as Habersham (0-7, 0-5) slowly began to claw its way back into the game in the second half.
The Raiders had two golden opportunities to cut into the lead in the third quarter.
First, Habersham took over deep inside Mustangs’ territory after a Meadowcreek fake punt pass was dropped, only to lose the ball two plays later on a fumble.
The Raiders then drove 63 yards in 13 plays before turning the ball over on downs at the Meadowcreek 37.
Finally, they cashed in by marching 67 yards in 10 plays — converting two fourth-down situations along the way — and draining 5:01 off the clock before Mulligan hit John David Herrin with a 23-yard touchdown pass to cut the Meadowcreek lead to 21-14 with 6:52 left to play.
And Habersham had two more chances to pull even, but had one opportunity slip away by turning the ball over on downs near midfield with 3:43 left.
Then, after getting the ball back with 2:13 left, the Raiders faced fourth and 23 at their own 30 with the final seconds ticking away.
Apparently forgetting it was fourth down, Mulligan spiked the ball to stop the clock, which turned the ball over on downs back to Meadowcreek, and started the celebration.
“It’s indescribable,” said George Pugh, who took over as Meadowcreek’s interim coach when head coach Deario Grimmage left to take another job during the summer. “These kids have fought so hard, and so much has always gone wrong. It’s been one thing or another. But you know what they’ve done? They’ve hung in there. … I kept telling them, ‘Just hang in there and be patient, and good things will happen to you.’ Some good things happened to us (Friday) night.”
It’s a celebration head coach Pugh hopes won’t take five more years to duplicate.
“It’s only the beginning for us,” Pugh said. “We’ve got a long way to go. A long way to go. But a change is going to come.”