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Stephens takes key region battle, tops Lumpkin 35-24
Kickoff return sparks visitors to win at Dahlonega
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DAHLONEGA —- Stephens County rushed for 255 yards and got a 97-yard kickoff return from Cassadine Blassingame to post an impressive and critical 35-24 win over host Lumpkin County on Friday night.

With the win, Stephens County (6-2, 3-1 Region 8A-AAA) takes a stranglehold on second place in the North subregion and is assured of a berth in a region play-in game.

Lumpkin County (5-3, 2-2 Region 8A-AAA) needs to win at Chestatee next week to sew up third place in the North and a spot in the other play-in game. Lumpkin had lost all four previous meetings with Chestatee.

Stephens' electric sophomore running back Chaz Thornton rushed for a game-high 122 yards and scored on runs of 27 and 21 yards. Quarterback Mark Palmer also scored twice for Stephens, which jumped ahead 14-0 early in the second quarter and never trailed.

Lumpkin hung around, thanks to two key first-half interceptions by Skylar Donovan and Logan Moye. A 1-yard touchdown run by Michael Flanagan cut the Stephens' lead to 14-7 at halftime.

Stephens opened the second half with a scoring drive, capped by Palmer's second touchdown of the night on fourth-and-goal from the 1.

After Lumpkin's Taylor Burns made a 38-yard field goal to cut the lead to 21-10, Blassingame took off up the middle on the ensuing kickoff. He appeared to get bottled up near midfield, but kept his balance and broke out of the pack for the 97-yard touchdown. It sucked the energy out of what had been an excited home crowd and put Stephens in command 28-10 late in third quarter.

Thornton extended the lead to 35-10 on his second touchdown run of the night early in the fourth quarter

Lumpkin quarterback Taylor Guthrie threw two late touchdown passes to Ian McIntosh and Cody Hux to cut the lead to 35-23 with 2:26 to play. But Stephens recovered the ensuing onside kick to end the comeback threat.

It's a deflating loss for a banged-up Lumpkin team that lost one their top defensive players in junior end B.J. Dorsey to a knee injury last week. Flanagan was limping after the game, and the Lumpkin locker room was virtually silent.

"We've to find a way to flush away this loss this week," said Lumpkin coach Tommy Jones. "We're very disappointed, but have to realize that our goals are still in front of us."

In the other locker room, the chant of "Hail Stephens" rang from a team that saw its region title hopes dashed by last week's loss to White County. White County clinched the subregion title with its win over Chestatee Friday.

"Our kids had a great week of practice and did everything you're supposed to after a loss," said Stephens coach Travis Noland. "And it paid off tonight."


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