Only up three points with 45 seconds left in Friday night’s Region 7-AAA opener with East Hall at the Burial Grounds, Lumpkin County needed one more first down to seal the deal.
And who better to do that than senior fullback Zach Matthews?
The workhorse back and Elite 11 playmaker came through in the clutch for an Indians unit that shined all game long, moving the sticks to preserve a 30-27 victory over the Vikings.
“When you look out, and you see and you know that when it’s third and short, or even if it’s fourth and short, that if you’re giving the ball to Zach Matthews, your odds are that you’re gonna get that yardage because he’s gonna give you everything he’s got every play,” Lumpkin County coach Shane Williamson said.
Matthews’ final tote capped a mammoth performance by the Indians’ backfield in what turned out to be an offensive showdown against the high-powered Vikings down the home stretch. Of the 415 rushing yards accrued in Williamson’s wishbone set, Matthews accounted for more than half that total with a season-high 244 yards and three scores on 29 carries. He converted a fourth and 2 inside East Hall’s 10-yard-line before putting the Indians on the board with a 5-yard plunge on the 13th play of a seven-minute drive in the opening quarter, and reached the end zone twice more on runs of 6 and 12 yards in the fourth quarter.
But Matthews’ pivotal third-down conversion in the waning seconds — one of many for him in the contest — was just a microcosm of the Indians’ first region victory in two years. The Indians performed in all three phases, getting three crucial field goals from kicker Wesley Wells (from 48, 41 and 31 yards). Williamson’s defense even limited the big plays of an explosive offense run by Elite 11 starting quarterback Austin Parker. The Vikings turned the ball over on downs twice inside Indian territory in the first half.
“That was huge too because those are the games you strive to win each year, and hopefully you reach your goal of making the playoffs. So that was a big team victory for us,” Williamson said.
“With me getting here late in June, and to watch these guys just kind of buy in to everything we’re trying to do as a coaching staff has been a credit to the character that they have, and our coaching staff has done a great job with just buying in and working extremely hard, and just trying to make the most out of this season.”
When it comes to Matthews, he exemplifies everything Lumpkin County’s coaching staff is striving to do under newcomer Williamson. The first-year head coach said Matthews may be soft-spoken in the locker room, but his actions on the field clearly speak louder than words. He carries a positive attitude, always ready to give 100 percent and do whatever it takes to better the team, even playing on scout team to assist the defense, according to Williamson.
“He’s willing to do whatever it takes to make our team better,” Williamson said.
“It’s been very impressive to get to know him and be able to watch him work, and I hate that he is a senior, but we still have half a season left and hopefully we can still get a lot of good out of Zach Matthews, and hopefully just keep him injury-free.”
Matthews has thrived in the first four games with 727 rushing yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 7.3 yards per carry. The Indians backfield as a whole is up to 1,440 yards and 12 touchdowns on a combined 225 carries.
Williamson said that type of success would not have been possible without solid blocking up front by offensive linemen Zach Johns, Cage Sanford, Dalton Savage and Devan Dye
While acknowledging the significance of that victory, Williamson indicated there’s still a lot of football left as the Indians (2-2, 1-0 Region 7-AAA) host White County at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“We enjoyed the win over the weekend, but it’s like how I always tell them about each play in football, it has a history of itself, and this game is history now, and we need to put it behind us and keep looking forward,” he said.