Ty Maxwell knew Zach Matthews would be an important player for him. The Lumpkin County football coach just didn’t realize it would be in the role he filled the last two weeks.
With Indians quarterback Gunner Wood sidelined for a week after a targeting penalty against Union County, Matthews shifted from running back to quarterback and delivered a pair of strong performances.
First, Matthews led Lumpkin County to victory, 14-3 against Johnson. Then, this past Friday, the sophomore nearly helped the Indians recover from a 19-0 deficit in a 42-35 loss to Our Lady of Mercy.
Matthews rushed for 94 yards against the Knights, including a 52-yard dash to set up a 1-yard touchdown run of his own.
He followed that up with 18 carries for 213 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Our Lady of Mercy. Matthews has 83 carries for 575 yards and five touchdowns through four games.
“He’s stepped in and filled the role when we needed him to,” Maxwell said.
The sophomore, who also plays linebacker for Lumpkin County, shined in spite of some jitters about the move under center.
“I was nervous,” Matthews said. “I hadn’t practiced it too much.”
He said being pressed into action at the most visible spot on the field reinforced the need to be prepared at any time.
“It’s very important because if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll mess up a lot,” Matthews said.
The 6-foot, 190-pound Matthews is also a standout wrestler. It’s an experience that certainly translates to the gridiron.
“It helps me with cardio and being very tough when you get out there,” Matthews said.
Maxwell said Matthews is very developed strength-wise for being a sophomore.
“He’s an explosive athlete. He’s a big kid. He’s a strong kid. He runs really hard,” Maxwell said. “We’re really excited. We think he has a bright future ahead of him.”
Following a 2-8 campaign in 2013, Matthews has seen a difference in this year’s team. Despite a 1-3 start, he feels like this group can chase a playoff berth in Region 7-AAA and the program’s first postseason win.
The Indians open region play at East Hall this Friday.
“The players seem more excited, and it gives you a boost in the game,” Matthews said. “We’ve been working a lot harder at practice and being more physical, being more vocal and wanting to win more.”
Maxwell said younger guys like Matthews have done a good job filling in different spots because of injuries.
“We’ve experienced a lot. We’re a 1-3 team. We’ve experienced a lot of adversity. But the kids have given great effort,” Maxwell said. “I really feel like we’re about to get over the hump now as we approach our region schedule.”
Perhaps most important is the mindset Lumpkin County’s guys are showing.
“It’s exciting to me how our kids are acting,” Maxwell said. “We’re really pushing playing angry but also being disciplined.”