Worth County coach Scotty Ward and his Rams rebounded from a tough loss last week against Americus-Sumter to get on the board Thursday night in Region 1-AAA with a victory against Westover.
ALBANY -- Scotty Ward almost laughed when he said it, his head shaking.
"Worth County's got a kicker. This is the first time Worth County has had a kicker -- Worth County,'' he said again for emphasis. "Everyone has had a kicker, but we've been behind the eight ball. I've been here 10 years and this is the first kicker we've had.''
That kid who slipped in front of the eight ball is sophomore Aaron Sinclair, whose big toe was the biggest difference Thursday night when Worth managed to kick three extra points and hang on to beat Westover, 23-18, in a Region 1-AAA showdown that left both teams at 1-1 in the region race -- and left Westover's Patriots wondering if they will ever get a break.
They're now 3-3 and have lost their three games by a total of 10 points.
"It's special teams and our kicking game. It's the same thing. We just can't get an extra point. That's been the difference,'' said Westover coach Octavia Jones, who had the longest night of his coaching career after watching junior defensive end Joshua Burton suffer an injury late in the game and be carried off the field on a stretcher and taken to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. "He had movement in his legs and some movement in his arms."
Jones added that he wasn't sure of the severity of the injury.
Westover also lost tailback Dalviness Greene, who gained 131 yards on 20 carries in the first half and then limped out of High Mills on crutches after suffering an ankle injury in the third quarter.
Sophomore Shannon Saunders, who scored on a 3-yard run in the second quarter, replaced Greene, and helped Westover come back to close the gap to 21-18. But Sinclair's three extra points proved to be the difference.
DeAngelo Hicks sacked Westover quarterback T.J. Wester for a safety with 41 seconds left in the game.
"He's never missed an extra point,'' Ward said. "He missed one in the playoffs last year on a bad snap, but he's made all the rest.''
Sinclair is 13-for-13 this season, and made all three PATs in the first half when Worth built a 21-12 lead. The Rams lost a heartbreaker to Americus-Sumter last week to fall to 0-1 in the region race after the Panthers, who were down, 22-0 at one point, scored on the final play before half to ignite a 36-29 comeback.
On Thursday, Worth pulled off the big play just before halftime. Leading 14-12 and facing a fourth-and-nine at the 21, the Rams went for it with 26 seconds left in the half.
Quarterback Savon Farley, who had been sacked earlier on a fourth down play, avoided a big rush and hit Kareem McDaniel over the middle, and McDaniel dashed the final seven yards across the field into the left corner of the end zone.
"His pass was perfect,'' said McDaniel, who had two catches for 30 yards. "Perfect. This is a big, big win because of what happened last week. We couldn't keep losing. The difference (Thursday) was we played with more fire.''
More fire, and two blocked kicks.
The Rams took the lead early when Farley hit Marlin Hall with a 19-yard TD pass with 6:26 left in the first quarter. Westover drove to the Worth 17 to answer, but went for a 33-yard field goal on fourth-and-nine.
Dantavis Jones, who had a monster night on defense, blocked the field goal and the ball bounced off to the left, where Hakeem Slade picked it up. There was nothing in front, and he could have run to Atlanta untouched. He stopped in the end zone with a 78-yard return to lift Worth to an early 14-0 lead.
"All just saw an open field and took off running,'' said Slade, a junior who had never scored a TD. "It felt great.''
Westover bounced back from Slade's return, and scored twice before halftime as Greene did most of the damage on the ground. Saunders cashed in with a 3-yard TD run to close to 14-6, but the extra point kick was blocked. When Wester scored on a 3-yard run with 3:12 left in the half, Westover went for two, but Hall broke up the pass to leave the score at 14-12.
Westover's defense held Worth to only 37 yards of offense in the second half, and 24 of those came on two first down scrambles by Farley.
But Westover couldn't take advantage of great field position at the Worth 27 after Derrick Atkins intercepted Farley in the third quarter. Westover didn't score again until Wester waltzed in on a fourth-and-one with 6:44 left in the game. Wester's two-point conversion pass fell short.
Westover got the ball back at its 34 with 3:47 left, but on a second-and-five play Wester hit a wide open Kenneth Towns in the middle of the field, but Towns couldn't hang on, and Wester gained only two yards on third down and then his fourth down pass fell short.
"Some nights you do everything right and lose, and some nights you just hang in there and win," Ward said. "That's all I can say. We needed to win this game. Being 1-1 (in the region) is a whole lot better than being 0-2.''
Jones just wants to regroup.
"Yeah, this is a tough loss. We get the field goal blocked and they score, and our defensive back slipped on the first touchdown," he said. "We spotted them 14 points, and you can't do that.
"But we can still reach our goal of winning the region championship. We just have to win the rest of our games. That's what we've got to do.''