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Lanier Christian Academy comes up just short in season opener against Notre Dame despite strong performance from Charlie Vera
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Lanier's Andrew Perry runs the ball for a touchdown with Notre Dame's Bailey Dawkins attempting to take him down during a game between Lanier Christian Academy and Notre Dame at Gainesville Middle School on Friday, Aug. 16, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

A sloppy start to Lanier Christian Academy’s season opening game against Notre Dame Academy turned into cleaner, offensive battle in the second half. But in the end, the Irish Wolfhounds were too much for the Lightning (0-1), as Lanier Christian fell 21-18 at Gainesville Middle School.

“I’m pleased with our effort,” Lightning coach Blake Anderson said. “But we’ve got a lot to work on to fine tune some things so that we can execute better on offense, be more disciplined on defense, and that just comes with playing, watching film, correcting those mistakes. But I’m very pleased with their effort, and we can build on that for sure.”

Lanier Christian’s first possession ended in a turnover following bad snap on a punt attempt, a precursor for the mistake-laden opening half that was to come. The teams combined for six turnovers in the first 24 minutes of a game that at one point featured two fumbles and an interception on three consecutive plays. 

Notre Dame quarterback Thomas Mlakar got into the end zone early in the game on a 25-yard scamper, and Lightning QB Andrew Perry responded with a 10-yard rushing touchdown of his own in the second quarter, but otherwise neither team could get much going in the opening half. 

Both teams heated up in the second, each scoring a touchdown on their opening possession, with Lanier Christian’s score coming on a 1-yard dive from Charlie Vera. Vera scored against with about three minutes to go in the fourth quarter to put the Lightning up 18-14. But Mlakar delivered strikes of 45 and 24 yards on the ensuing drive — the latter being a perfectly thrown ball to Cameron Fryar in the left corner of the end zone to put the Irish Wolfhounds on top for good. 

Here are a few quick takeaways from Friday’s game. 

ISAIAH WILLIAMS MAKES HIS PRESENCE KNOWN

Though the six opening half turnovers were partly due to poor execution from both teams offensively, Lanier Christian Academy’s Williams played a major role in wrecking Notre Dame’s offensive plans. 

Williams broke through the Irish Wolfhound offensive line for open hits on Mlakar on a couple of occasions in the second quarter, and he took advantage, forcing a pair of fumbles off of QB sacks. The jarring hits surprised Mlakar, but not Anderson.

“Isaiah does that,” Anderson said. “He’s got a knack for finding that opportunity to create a turnover. We’ve just got to sniff out the ball a little bit better, and I hope that we can do it.”

NOT SO SPECIAL TEAMS

Lanier Christian dealt with execution issues in several areas early on, but special teams hurt the Lightning perhaps more than any other phase of the game. Outside of the turnover off a bad snap on a punt attempt, Lanier Christian failed to recover an onside kick and went 0 for 3 on two-point conversion attempts. On a couple of occasions, the Lightning gave Notre Dame the ball at or near midfield due to short kicks or poor kick coverage. 

“We need to make sure we’re executing in that phase of the game as well, because it’s just as important,” Anderson said. “We’ve got to make special teams special, and we can only do that by minimizing those mistakes and putting people in the right places at the right time.”

VERA COMES ALIVE LATE

Vera was hardly a factor in the first half of the game, rushing for just 14 yards on four carries, but the second half was a different story entirely. 

With the Notre Dame defense exhausted and reeling, Vera put together 84 hard earned yards on 15 attempts, including six first downs and a pair of touchdowns. He briefly left the game with an apparent leg ailment, but only missed a snap before coming back in and breaking a couple of tackles on a 12-yard run that eventually led to a Lanier Christian score. 

“He’s got to be our feature back,” Anderson said of Vera. “With his experience and his leadership and of course his tenacity, that sets him apart. We wanted to put it on his shoulders and ride him, and he responded to that challenge.”

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