The ECI Bulldogs advanced to the second round of the state playoffs, defeating Lanier Co. 41-35.
They will take the long four-hour ride to southwest Georgia Friday to take on region champion and number one seed Early Co. in Blakely in the second round.
If you like an offensive game, the ECI vs Lanier was in your wheelhouse. Both teams combined for 76 points and 959 yards of total offense. It was also a tale of two halves for both teams. ECI outscored the Bulldogs from Lanier 28-7 in the first half. Lanier Co. returned the favor and matched that score putting 28 points on the board in the second half of regulation, while holding ECI to 7 points. ECI took the opening kickoff and grounded out a 78-yard drive in 10 plays to go up 7-0 late in the first quarter. The Bulldog defense kept Lanier out of the end zone in the first for an 7-0 ECI lead. Lanier tied the score early in the second quarter at 7-7 on a one-yard run. ECI took very little time off the clock on their first drive of the second quarter, scoring on 4 plays. Hudson Henry burnt Lanier on a 22-yard touchdown run for a 14-7 Bulldog lead. ECI scored 14 more points in the second quarter. Chase Johnson raced 39 yards for the second touchdown of the quarter and Jackson Kennedy, throwing the Bulldogs’ only pass in the game, hit Ab Marsh who broke a couple of tackles for a 38-yard touchdown. The Bulldog defense ended two Lanier scoring threats deep in their own territory in the second quarter. James Parker made a diving interception at the ECI one yard line to end the first threat. Chase Johnson intercepted another Lanier pass inside the Bulldog 20 taking it back to the Lanier 28. ECI scored on both turnovers to lead 28-7 at halftime with all the momentum on the visitor’s side of the field. Lanier Co. broke a little of that momentum on the opening possession of the third quarter. Using a running and passing game, Lanier put on a 21-play time- consuming drive to score their first touchdown of the second half for a 28-14 ECI lead. Lanier stopped the Bulldogs at midfield on ECI’s only possession of the third. The hometown Bulldogs got even closer as the third quarter horn sounded on a 21-yard run with ECI still leading by a touchdown, 28-21. Hudson Henry, carrying the ball for four consecutive plays, found the end zone on a 7-yard run to put the Bulldogs up by 14 again, 35-21, with 9:45 left in the game. Lanier once again cut the lead to just 7 points on their next drive on a 6-yard run with ECI still leading 35-28. After punting the ball back to Lanier Co. with two minutes left in the game, ECI defense sacked the Lanier quarterback twice to push them back to their own 13. Down by a TD with minute to play the Lanier fourth down pass was incomplete to give the ECI Bulldogs back the ball with under a minute to play at the Lanier Co. 8-yard line. Chase Johnson took the ball to the Lanier Co. 2-yard line on the first play to set up a second and goal. Rather than risk a fumble or possible scoop and score the Bulldogs took a knee on the next 2 downs. Instead of the possibility of a blocked field goal attempt for a possible TD, the Bulldogs took a knee on fourth down. With two timeouts during that possession and the clock stopping on change of possession, Lanier had 4 seconds and one desperation play left to tie the game. Against all odds, the Lanier quarterback threw a simple medium pass to the sideline. The receiver broke the first tackle and outran the Bulldog defense to tie the game as the horn sounded and pandemonium broke out on the home side. Tied at 35, the game went into overtime, with ECI having the ball first. With all the momentum on the Lanier side, the Bulldogs made short work in overtime scoring in 3 plays. Johnson scored from 3 yards out for a touchdown. The Bulldogs failed on the extra point try after a bad snap with ECI leading by 6.
Needing just a touchdown and an extra point for a comeback win, Lanier picked up 4 yards on the first play. They would make their mistake in OT on a bad snap to the quarterback on second down, losing 7 yards. One of the several freshman playing for the Bulldogs this season, Rashad Smith, broke up a pass in the endzone on third down, setting up a fourth and 13 play for Lanier Co. Under heavy pressure, the Lanier quarterback was forced to scramble out of the pocket. Gabe Lee tackled him around the 10 to preserve the 41-35 win for the Bulldogs with a big sigh of relief coming from the ECI side of the field. The Bulldogs rushed for 379 yards against the Lanier defense. Hudson Henry led the Bulldogs on the ground, rushing 14 times for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Other running backs adding to the total were Chase Johnson 92 yards, Ab Marsh 60 yards, Tuff Boddiford 55 yards, and Brian Steele 2 carries for 6 yards. Jackson Kennedy was 1-1 for 38 yards and a touchdown to Ab Marsh.
Region 3 will have 3 teams playing in the second round. Portal defeated Turner Co. and Jenkins beat Charlton to advance. The Bulldogs will face region one champion Early Co. Friday night. The Bobcats are one of a few teams that were originally in class A division one but won a petition to play down to division two due to travel. The Bobcats are a senior heavy team with 21 out of their 54 players playing their last season. Early had a regular season record of 7-3, going 6-0 in region. Their 3 losses came against Brooks Co., Irwin Co. and Eufaula from Alabama. They advanced to the second round by defeating Hawkinsville 42-20.