BUENA VISTA, Ga. — Marion County controlled the majority of the first half in its first-round playoff matchup with Greenville on Friday. But after taking a three-score lead in the second quarter, it gave up a touchdown and, knowing it had to kick off to start the second half, found itself in a game with the visiting Patriots.
Junior Lorenzo Smothers summed up the first half by saying the Eagles played fast, but not very aggressive. They rectified that problem immediately upon leaving the locker room.
Marion County capitalized off of four Greenville turnovers, scoring four touchdowns in less than three minutes en route to a 52-6 blowout to open the playoffs.
“Coach told us we were playing fast, but not very aggressive,” Smothers said. “I talked with the team at halftime, and we said we just needed to play more physical. We came out and just turned it up.”
With the win, the Eagles, who are on a 16-game winning streak dating back to last season, have set up a date with Mt. Zion-Carroll in the Class A-public quarterfinals. Marion County is in pursuit of its second consecutive state championship.
Holding on to a commanding but modest 21-6 lead at halftime and kicking off to start the third, the Eagles were in a situation that could quickly become precarious.
Greenville gained a first down to its own 36-yard line to open the quarter, but running back Elijah Amie fumbled the football on the fourth play of the drive. It was recovered and returned to the 19-yard line, and Johnny Royal needed just one play to get into the end zone and give Marion County complete the control.
In desperate need of a good drive, Greenville instead fumbled the ensuing kickoff, which was recovered by Marion County’s Maurice Carter at the 5-yard line. Again, Marion County scored on the first play, this time a 5-yard dive by Smothers, his third trip to pay dirt in the game.
Unwilling to relinquish the momentum, Marion County stripped the ball again on the first play of the next Patriots drive, this time taking three plays to reach the end zone. Quarterback Dustin Eckert fell 2 yards up the middle to extend the Eagles lead to 40-6.
Smothers put an exclamation point on the incredible three-minute swing with a pick-six on the second play of Greenville’s next drive. He jumped in front of quarterback Jamal McKee’s pass and returned it 30 yards for a score, his fourth touchdown of the night.
All night, Smothers ducked, dodged and dove around Greenville defenders. In all, he had 133 yards rushing and 36 yards receiving. He scored two rushing touchdowns, a receiving touchdown, a defensive touchdown and nearly broke a kickoff for six, instead settling for a modest 40-yard return.
“A good team can score anywhere on the field,” Smothers said. “If you’ve got a team like that, you can go a long way.”
Speaking about the halftime adjustments, coach Mike Swaney said he thought his team was a little rusty in the first half, but responded well. Amie rushed for 83 yards in the first half, but struggled to gain much traction in the second. He had one 25-yard run, but not much else.
“We haven’t been able to hit much the last couple weeks, and they threw a different blocking scheme at us than the first time we played them (a 41-0 Eagles win),” Swaney said. “We didn’t tackle well early, but I thought we played well in the second half.”
Marion County has allowed just 18 total points in its past five games, six each to Hawkinsville, Central-Talbotton and Greenville.
Even this success isn’t enough for Smothers, though.
“We’ve got to keep working,” he said. “We can’t be satisfied yet. That’s just one down. We’ve got three more to go.”
Friday at Marion County
Greenville 0 6 0 0—6
Marion County 7 14 25 6—52
MC—Johnny Royal 1 run (Austin Brannon kick); 9:28
MC—Lorenzo Smothers 36 pass from Dustin Eckert (Brannon kick); 8:58
MC—Smothers 16 run (Brannon kick); 3:24
G—Demetrius Simon 4 pass from Jamal McKee (Pass failed); :17
MC—Royal 19 run (Kick failed); 9:39
MC—Smothers 5 run (Run failed); 9:24
MC—Eckert 2 run (Brannon kick); 7:54
MC—Smothers 30 interception return (Kick failed); 6:42
MC—Quentez Battle 39 run (no kick); :00
Records: Greenville, 5-6; Marion County, 11-0. Next: Greenville, season over; Marion County, Friday vs. Mt. Zion-Carroll at home.