SUGAR HILL — Messiah Dorsey is done with it.
He’s done thinking about Lanier’s last-minute 41-yard field goal Friday night. He’s done thinking about how Gainesville’s strong fourth-quarter comeback came up just three points short.
As the No. 8 Lanier Longhorns (6-0, 5-0 Region 8-AAAAA) loudly celebrated their 26-23 victory on home turf 40 yards away, Dorsey’s focus had already shifted to the rest of the Region 8-AAAAA schedule.
“We fought hard,” the junior running back said, drenched in sweat. “We’ve gotta keep going. This game is done."
But it was a sight to behold.
The Red Elephants (4-2, 4-1 Region 8-AAAAA), who had given up 23 unanswered points throughout the second and third quarters, were able to rally and tie Lanier with just over three minutes remaining in the game.
Gainesville quarterback Mikey Gonzalez (17 of 28 passing, 238 yards, two TDs, one interception) found Dorsey wide open in the left corner of the end zone six minutes after Michael Byrd’s 4-yard run put the Red Elephants back on the board for the first time since the first quarter.
But two crucial penalties on Lanier’s final drive, for facemasking and then pass interference, gave Lanier kicker Mason Harwood just enough of a chance to convert a 41-yard field goal with 14.7 seconds on the clock.
Lanier, which began its varsity program in 2010, will command the attention of opponents across the state with Friday’s marquee win over an established program like Gainesville. Senior running back Tario Fuller deserved most of the plaudits for his 30 carries for 133 yards performance, including a rushing score from 6 yards for the Longhorns’ first touchdown of the night.
The Longhorns are in the driver’s seat of the region tussle thanks to the right-footed effort of Harwood, who was mobbed by his teammates after providing the final score of the night.
“We talked to our kids about measuring ourselves against the standard of the region,” said Lanier coach Korey Mobbs after the game. “And it’s great to come away with quite a big win. Gainesville was able to mount the challenge, but we’re going to celebrate this tonight.”
Gainesville bossed the opening stages by taking a measured seven-play, 62-yard drive to go up 9-0 when Gonzalez found Dorsey (three receptions for 60 yards, two receiving TDs) from 39 yards out.
But Fuller, a Purdue commit, helped Lanier out in multiple third-and-short situations, helping to earn his team seven first downs throughout the game to extend drives. His 6-yard scoring burst through the middle of Gainesville’s linebackers put the Longhorns on the board halfway through the second quarter.
Four minutes later, Lanier found paydirt on its next drive. Quarterback Tahj Tolbert (5 for 16, 90 yards, one passing TD) somehow made a twisting, jerking throw to receiver Tim Leazer from 32 yards to give Lanier its first lead.
Lanier compounded Gainesville’s poor second quarter when defensive lineman Derrick Brown picked off Gonzalez’s slant pass to Michael Byrd, running it back 48 yards to put the home team up 20-9.
“We just didn’t come up with the plays that we needed to,” said Gainesville head coach Bruce Miller. “I told them, ‘We can’t be frustrated.’ It’s easy to be frustrated and look at people and point fingers, but these kids didn’t do that.”
Lanier’s offense was calculated coming out of the locker room in the second half. The Longhorns picked up five first downs, while Fuller ran for nine carries that chewed up 6:18 after starting on their own 20.
Two drives later, Lanier wasted enough time with its run game to kick a 34-yard field goal to extend the lead to 14 points with just over a minute left before the fourth quarter.
“I believed in God that we would come back, man,” Dorsey said. “I love this game. I never gave up, we never gave up.”
Dorsey would give Gainesville a fighting chance when his 7-yard carry pushed the Red Elephants inside Lanier’s red zone before Byrd’s 4-yard scoring run two plays later gave Gainesville hope.
Gonzalez found receiver Rodney Lackey open for a 30-yard gain on third-and-6 before connecting with Dorsey for a 24-yard score that would tie the game at 23 with 3:33 left.
But two back-to-back penalties pushed Lanier closer and closer to field goal range as the clock ticked closer to the end.
Gainesville’s Kash Jones sacked Mobbs on third down, which forced the 41-yard attempt. Lanier’s kicking team scrambled into action with precious seconds ticking away, but Harwood’s kick was true. The Lanier student section was on the field before the PA announcer could tell them to stay away.
“That’s the first time we’ve really been tested since Grayson,” Miller said, referring to the season-opening loss. “We fought back and got those two penalties and that’s nobody’s fault. We’ve just got to get our breaks.”