Late score spares Lowndes from Tift upset

C.J. Henley shows proof that he held on to the football on a pass from Azaria Smith that took the Blue Devils to the 5. Tyler Parker is there to congratulate him on the catch.

VALDOSTA - Jacurri Brown dove into the end zone with 5:37 remaining in Friday's Tift County-Lowndes football game and stopped what would have been one of the biggest upsets in Georgia high school football this year.

Lowndes pulled out a 17-13 win at Martin Stadium. They led for only that 5:37 on the clock at the time of Brown's plunge. The rest of the time, the game belonged to the Blue Devils.

Tift had the Vikings on their toes the entire game. Even after Lowndes' final touchdown it wasn't over.

Lowndes had to stop 4th-and-2 at the 40 with under three minutes to go. Tift still almost had another shot, but Brown converted a fourth down to run out the clock.

The Vikings were the consensus No. 1 team in the state and highly regarded by a number of national polls. Their first two plays of the night made it seem like they would have an easy time retaining that status.

Brown was incomplete on his first try, but hit Jahiem James for a 67-yard gain to Tift's 15.

But it wasn't going to be that type of contest.

J.D. Bengston forced a fumble and Daniel Whitehead pounced, bringing the ball back to the Tift 40.

Azaria Smith completed two passes, then took off himself on a 41-yard run to the 6. A false start penalty and two incompletions stalled them, but Pedro Mendoza came in for a 25-yard field goal at 9:10 in the first quarter.

Two three-and-outs followed in the first quarter for the Lowndes offense, with 11 yards of offense. Meanwhile, the defense was having its problems keeping the Blue Devils off the field.

Tift took over with 3:23 to go in the frame, a drive that extended into the second quarter.

From their own 44, the Blue Devils worked methodically, mostly with runs. Smith gained five. C.J. Henley and Javon King went forward for six and seven.

At Lowndes' 40, they struck.

Fullback Cade Anders made his first catch of the year, taking the ball all the way to the 5. King ran twice and it was his two-yard gain at 10:32 that was good for the touchdown. Mendoza's kick meant it was 10-0.

They didn't have to wait long to add to the advantage.

Lowndes coughed it up on the first play after the kickoff and Jackson Strickland returned it to the 26.

Smith threaded the needle to Henley for a 17-yard gain to the 13, but Lowndes held firm. Mendoza came in again at 8:37, this time for a 35-yard field goal.

Lowndes was stopped on downs on their next drive, but found life soon after.

Brown found James for 23 yards. Three plays later, he connected with Chase Belcher for a 28-yard touchdown at 1:05. Preston Hart's point-after was good.

Little time remained in the half, but the Vikings had all of their timeouts. They stopped Tift deep in their own territory, then took over a punt near midfield.

Time ticked down, seconds melting away. The Vikings were at the 19 when Brown gambled. With 10 seconds left, he took off for the end zone and while Tift knocked him out of bounds at the 2, the clock read 0.6 seconds.

Hart's field goal split the uprights. The scores was 13-10 at intermission.

The third quarter began with an eight-minute drive by the Blue Devils.

Chrishon Stephens, Zach Carter and Smith did most of the heavy lifting on nine straight runs. At the 32, an 18-yard pass to Henley had them in business again, especially after Carter's next run moved it to the 8.

They could not get closer. A holding penalty, followed by intentional grounding combined to move the ball all the way back to the 36. That was too long for a field goal and the score remained as it was.

Lowndes showed signs of breaking through in the third before a Shawn Lindsey sack helped to stop the drive.

Henley and King picked up first downs to start the fourth, but Tift had to punt.

It then became Brown's show.

From his own 18 and with 9:19 left, Brown ran four straight times. A pass to Belcher got them to Tift's 39, then Brown ran again and again. The Devils stopped him at the 6, then at the 2, but he muscled his way in and Lowndes on top.

Tift picked up a last first down and Smith had a near-miss to Michael Taylor on a sideline pass, but the Lowndes defense and downs caught up with them and the hosts ran out the clock.

Smith completed 11-of-22 passes for an unofficial 123 yards. Henley caught four for 49. Anders added 34 on his catch.

Smith also led in rushing, 57 yards on 12 tries. King had 38 and a touchdown.

Brown had 162 yards passing, completing 8 of 15 tosses. He ran for 75 yards.

Tift will go to 4-4 Camden County next week. The Wildcats fell 34-13 to Colquitt County last Friday.

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