ROSWELL — There were dueling noisemakers Friday night at Bob Lord Field with cowbells clanging on one side and plastic shakers on the other as the Hebron Christian Lions and Fellowship Christian Paladins met for the first time ever in the third round of the state playoffs.
In a seesaw contest, Fellowship Christian hung on for a 35-28 win and earned the right host Wesleyan next Friday in the Class A Private semifinals.
“How does it feel hosting the semifinal right here next week?” Paladins head coach Al Morrell said to his victorious players after the game. “You guys did it, it went back and forth. Hats off to you players, you never quit, you kept fighting and you stopped them when you had to.”
Fifth-seeded Fellowship Christian improved to 12-0. No. 12 seed Hebron ended its year at 8-5.
“We were just kind of hanging on for our lives in that fourth quarter,” said Morrell. “They had some outstanding players making some plays. The quarterback missed a couple of completions at the end, but he played an outstanding game. They have a great football team. They are fighters.”
Fellowship used a 12-play opening drive to get on the scoreboard. A steady dose of junior running back Murphy Reeves and a Bryce Paul end around to the 5-yard line gave the Paladins first-and-goal. Keeping with their hurry-up offense the Paladins snapped the ball quickly and Reeves powered through the middle of the line for the game’s opening touchdown at the 6:57 mark of the first quarter.
Hebron took over on its 25-yard line and tried to answer. Junior Colten Gauthier mixed quarterback keepers along with a 10-yard pass to Karim Muhammad to move Hebron to the Paladins side of the field. On third-and-7, senior Donnovan Moorer burst through the line, made one cut and ran untouched 45 yards for the Lions score with 2:59 left in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Fellowship began its drive on the 34-yard line. After a Reeves 4-yard run, Jayven Hall dashed 42 yards to the Hebron 33. Reeves then powered 13 yards to the 20-yard line, dragging defenders with him. On fourth-and-1, Hildebrandt kept it for the sneak and first down. On second-and-goal from the 6, Hall took the ball after some misdirection and darted in for the score with 3:01 left in the half.
Muhammad returned ensuing kick to the Lions' 40 yard line in great position to start the drive. Demetrius Rogers ran for 6, and Ethan Burroughs added a 7-yard run to the right side. On the next play, Burroughs fumbled on a run, Fellowship freshman Kyle Elphick picked up the ball and ran all the way to the 2-yard line before being pushed out of bounds. On the next play, a short touchdown catch by Hall was discussed briefly by the officials but the play stood, giving Fellowship a 20-7 margin with 1:33 left in the half. Matt Rodgers added the extra point to give the Paladins a 21-7 lead.
Hebron’s battering ram quarterback Gauthier was stopped short on a keeper as time expired. The opening half ended with Fellowship leading 21-7 over Hebron.
In the third quarter, Gauthier put Hebron on his back, as he completed a 12-yard pass to Muhammad for the first down, was then brought down after a gain of 2, and tossed a 25-yard pass to a crossing Alex Pawson. Gauthier then scrambled for 3 on the right side.
On second-and-7 from the 27-yard line, Winston Gassant stumbled ahead for 3. Gassant then punished the defense, bowling forward for 11 tough yards. On second-and-10, Gauthier tossed a perfect pass to junior receiver Justin Peavy, who broke the tackle and spun into the end zone for the 14-yard touchdown with 4:01 left in the third quarter.
The third quarter ended with Fellowship leading Hebron 21-14.
In the fourth, the Paladins used another misdirection handoff as sophomore running back Josh Cole blew through the line and ran all alone 40 yards for the touchdown, making it 28-14 Fellowship after the extra point with 11:24 left in the game.
Needing just two minutes for a drive, Hebron’s Gauthier passed 25 yards to Peavy to move it to the Paladins 40. Gassant ran for five hard yards, and then Gauthier waited and waited before he lofted a pass to Moorer, who broke open in the left side of the end zone and ran under the ball for the Lions score to bring Hebron to within 28-21.
Fellowship took over on the next series with 9:14 left in the game and began to methodically run the ball and drain the clock. The measured approached disintegrated when Murphy Reeves took a short toss in the backfield and ran 60 yards along the right sideline for the insurance touchdown and a 35-21 lead for Fellowship with 7:55 remaining in the game.
Hebron, down 35-21, started the drive on its 27. On fourth-and-5 and the game hanging in the balance, Gauthier completed a 48-yard bomb to Moorer, getting the Lions to the 20. A second-and-10 pass intended for Peavy was broken up. The third down pass fell to the ground, but a holding penalty was called, moving the ball to the 10-yard line. Gauthier scrambled to his left and improvised a shovel pass to Pawson, who reached down and caught it right above the grass, then bent over backwards for the touchdown with 6:43 left. The kick brought the score to 35-28 in favor of Fellowship Christian.
Fellowship began on the 29 amid a cacophony of cowbells. On third-and-9, Fellowship could only gain three yards before punting with 5:21 left in the game.
Hebron started on the 32. Moorer scooted for a gain of six. Nate Coker caught a 13-yard pass, Moorer was swallowed up for a loss of two and Gassant ran and stretched for a gain of five. On 3rd-and-7 at midfield, Hebron ran the quarterback keeper but Gauthier lost a yard. On fourth-and-8 and down by seven points, the Lions attempted a long pass that was too high and ended up out of bounds.
Fellowship took over on downs on the Hebron 48-yard line. Hall made a five-yard run as the clock continued to wind down. Hall was then stopped for a minimal gain, and brought up third-and-4. Cole carried for two yards. On fourth down, Fellowship used a hard count and drew the Hebron defense offsides, giving a first down and essentially ending the game for the Paladins.
“We will evaluate and watch video of Wesleyan for this week’s practice," Morrell said. "We’ll go back to what we do every week, which is try to go 1-0."
FELLOWSHIP CHRISTIAN 35, HEBRON 28
Hebron 7 0 7 14 - 28
Fellowship Ch. 7 14 0 14 - 35
Fellowship: Murphy Reeves 5 run (Matt Rodgers kick) 6:57
Hebron: Donnovan Moorer 45 run (Jake Redman kick) 2:59
Fellowship: Jayven Hall 6 run (Rodgers kick) 3:01
Fellowship: Hall 2 pass from Eli Hildebrandt (Rodgers kick) 1:33
Hebron: Justin Peavy 14 pass from Gauthier (Redman kick) 4:01
Fellowship: Josh Cole 40 run (Rodgers kick) 11:24
Hebron: Moorer 35 pass from Gauthier (Redman kick)
Fellowship: Reeves 60 run ( Rodgers kick) 7:55
Hebron: Alex Pawson 10 pass from Gauthier (Redman kick) 6:43