By David Wolman
LONE GROVE — The play that helped jump-start Lone Grove’s rally from a 20-point deficit in Friday night’s 40-33 win over Meeker didn’t start as well as Longhorns senior Jeremy Lewis had wanted.
Lewis fielded a kickoff at the Lone Grove 5 with 2:35 remaining in the third quarter and fumbled the ball. But he quickly regathered possession. And a small seam is all the Arkansas State commit needed to break loose in the open field. He ran along the right sideline before bouncing the run to his left and into the end zone for a 95-yard touchdown.
He electrified the Longhorns crowd with two more touchdown runs — 1 yard and 35 yards — before his night was over with.
Lewis got it done in all three phases.
The game-clincher was his interception of Meeker quarterback Michael Nolen at the Lone Grove 10 with 3:40 remaining.
Lone Grove coach Jeremy Turner admits that he was awestruck of the performance by Lewis, who rushed for 260 yards on 17 carries — 136 of that total came in the fourth.
“Greatest performance I’ve ever seen,” he said. “The kid refused to quit. He took us on his back for as tired as he was. And the thing is, we know how special he is, but the guys around him never quit.
“The other big players that we have, like Adonis McGee and Grant Harmon, who they weren’t allowing them to do much, unselfishly did what they did and the team needed to do to allow Jeremy to do what he did.”
Lewis deflected praise. For him, it was about desire.
“I didn’t really look at it that I had to put my team on back. I just didn’t want to lose,” he said.
With the win, Lone Grove (9-3) advances to the third round of the playoffs for the first time in school history. The Longhorns will host Locust Grove (12-0) this Friday in the quarterfinals.
Lone Grove overcame four turnovers and 114 yards in penalties. Meeker was flagged 13 times for 135 yards and committed five turnovers.
Trailing 13-6 to start the second half, Lone Grove’s Garrett Lemons recovered a fumble at midfield and that set up Lewis’ second touchdown, a 15-yard run, for a 13-all tie.
Then, the mistakes started to pile up for Lone Grove.
An attempt to strip the ball out of the hands of Meeker wide receiver Dakota Jackson created for a missed tackle and a 37-yard gain. That led to a 10-yard touchdown run by Jake Standlee, putting Meeker back in the lead at 19-13 with 6:44 left in the third. The conversion failed.
Meeker’s Daryck Smart gave the Bulldogs possession at the Longhorns 15 after he recovered a fumble by Harmon on the first play of the ensuing series. Three plays later, Standlee ran around the right end and into the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown.
Standlee, Meeker’s standout running back, rushed for 120 yards on 25 carries with three touchdowns.
Following a quick three-and-out by the Longhorns, an 18-yard punt by Lone Grove senior Adonis McGee gave Meeker another short field to work with. Four plays later, Nolen threw a pass to Kayden Edmonds who sidestepped a Longhorns defender and ran in for a 20-yard touchdown. Levi Bagwell’s kick put the Bulldogs ahead 33-13 with 2:35 left in the third.
With its season slipping away, Lone Grove didn’t give in.
Lewis’ kickoff return provided the spark.
“I was too revved up in the game. I didn’t notice how tired I was,” he said. “I just kept pushing through and my teammates backed me up.”
The Longhorns’ special teams fed off Lewis’ energy.
Marshall Zabonik and Jeremy Garrison each partially blocked a punt apiece.
Garrison’s block created a 16-yard punt off the foot of Bagwell, and the Longhorns took over the on the Bulldogs’ 40. Four plays later, Lewis ran from 44 yards out for the game-tying score.
So did Lone Grove’s defense
On Meeker’s ensuing possession, Chaz McGuire blew up a screen pass. A couple of plays later, Bulldogs kept their offense on the field and went for it on fourth-and-two from their own 44. Layne McLennahan sacked Nolen for a 10-yard loss to force a turnover on downs.
Ethan Moore also had a good game on defense for Lone Grove as he was in on a number of plays, including an interception.
“Those kids are phenomenal athletes and we try to get our best athletes on defense, and they did a great job,” Turner said. “They made big plays and big tackles when we needed them.”
Lewis’ 35-yard touchdown run with 4:46 put Lone Grove ahead for the first time since the first quarter.
The offensive line opened big running lanes for Lewis.
“We just got better and better as we went,” Lone Grove left tackle Lyle Graves said. “We just fixed some stuff and Jeremy started finding the holes.”
Meeker strung together one last drive.
Standlee ran a sweep for 15 yards. Nolen hooked up with Bagwell on an inside slant for a 12-yard gain on the next play. A catch by Edwards subsequently gave Meeker possession at the Lone Grove 22.
Lewis intercepted Nolen at the Lone Grove 10 with 3:40 to go.
“We just wanted it more than they did,” Lone Grove lineman William Sam said.
Play was stopped for about a half hour in the second quarter after Meeker senior Will Moore had to be transported by ambulance to a hospital after reportedly sustaining a lower-body injury.