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Early grounds Westover

Early County RB Ladonis Bryant ran for 114 yards and one TD and had a 85-yard kickoff return for a TD on Friday.

Early County RB Ladonis Bryant ran for 114 yards and one TD and had a 85-yard kickoff return for a TD on Friday.

BLAKELY -- Is there a tougher team to run against in Southwest Georgia than Early County?

If there is, you don't want to see them.

The Bobcats swarm and smother and stuff ... and most of all, they stop you.

Just ask Westover, a team that has lived by the run all season, a team with Dalviness Greene and a brutal offensive line that has shoved its way to a school-record start.

But that stopped Friday at Early, where Greene, who had rushed for 580 yards in three games, was held to 56 yards on 16 carries.

Grounded.

That's what Early does to teams. And that's a big reason Early is 2-2 today after escaping with a 21-19 win against Westover in a game that wasn't decided until the final play.

It ended with Westover quarterback T. J. Wester slinging for the fences as Westover tried one last comeback, and it ended at midfield with an interception by Early's Jaquarvius Smith -- and it ended in controversy.

Westover was furious with a call late in the game that might have changed the entire night. Early was punting from its own 34 with 5:22 left. Westover had already blocked one punt, and Kel Miller was rushing punter Matt Stuart, who caught a low snap and appeared to go to the ground before he got off his punt.

Grounded.

Miller was flagged for roughing the punter, but the flag hadn't hit the ground before Westover's coaches were heard screaming that Stuart's knee had hit the ground and that the play should have been dead.

Westover would have taken over at the Early 20 yard line.

"It was a game-changing call,'' Westover coach Octavia Jones said. "His knee was down. It can't be a foul if his knee is down because when his knee hits the ground the play is dead.

"They (the officials) are going to call what they see, and we have to deal with it, but his knee was down (and we should have had the ball at the 20). We had all the momentum. It's a game-changing call.''

Miller didn't blink when he was asked about the play.

"He was down when I got there,'' Miller said

"He caught the ball here,'' he said lowering his hands to show a catch around the knees. "And then he went to the ground before he kicked it. His knee was down. It was down.''

Early coach Trey Woolf said he didn't see the play.

It was a big win for Early, which is much better than its 2-2 record. The Bobcats lost to Class AAAA Bainbridge 16-12, and fell to Seminole County 33-13, but Friday the Woolf's young kids came together -- especially Ladonis Bryant, a junior who had a career night.

Bryant gained 114 yards on 19 carries, and broke the game open when he returned the second half kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown, and then ran in the two-point conversion to lift Early to a 14-7 lead. Then on the next series, it was the Bryant Express as he topped off a led a 91-yard drive with a 26-yard TD run that gave Early a 21-7 lead with 2:37 left in the third.

Until that drive, the game had been a defensive tug-o-war. Nobody moved much -- neither the football nor bodies.

Then no one could stop Bryant.

"I knew we needed some motivation,'' Bryant said. "I'm the sparkplug, so I'm the one who needed to give the motivation. My coach told me that I'm the sparkplug, and I felt I needed to do something to help us win.''

Woolf knows what he has in Bryant.

"He had a good night,'' he said. "He's capable of doing a lot of good things.''

Westover (2-2) stormed back, and on a night when Greene was being smothered, the Patriots found other ways to score. Nobody did much in the first half, but Early drove 18 yards after recovering a fumble on the first series of the game, and Devontay Spencer scored on a 3-yard run. The snap was on the PAT was high and the Bobcats settled for a 6-0 lead.

Jay Cunningham, who had a monster night for Westover, blocked Stuart's first punt of the night and the Patriots took over at the Early 5-yard line. Greene scored on a 5-yard run and punter-turned kicker Terry Wiley added the PAT.

It stayed 7-6 until Bryant broke free in the third quarter, and Early's 21-7 lead looked insurmountable. But Wiley, who buried three punts inside the Early 10, nailed one at the 1-yard line, and on a third-and-nine from the 2-yard line, Early QB Jacori Taylor tried to pass. Cunningham picked off the pass and returned it 13 yards for a TD to close to 21-13. But a low snap left the score right there with 10:41 left in the game.

The drama was just beginning

Wester, who had thrown for nine yards all night, hit Jackie Childs in stride with a 74-yard bomb to close the score to 21-19, but Early's no-give defense that was led by Clarence Taylor, Willie Ware and Jawanis Horn, a linebacker who seemed to be everywhere, stopped Green on the two-point conversion run with 7:11 left in the game.

Then Westover's D came up with the biggest stop of the night, forcing the punt at the Early 34. Then came the snap, the catch, the controversy...

"It's a big win for us to be 2-2, going into our region,'' Woolf said. "They got a great football team.''

This one will stay with Westover, which has lost two heartbreakers, including a triple OT loss to Bainbridge last week.

"It was a game-changing call,'' Jones said. "But it should have never come down to that. We've just got to press on -- gotta press on.''