Lexington coach Josh Stepp knew his team was going to have to play mistake free football in order to pull off the upset of No. 4 North Augusta in the Region 5-4A opener Friday night.
But a couple of costly miscues in the second half proved to be the difference as the Yellow Jackets hung on for a hard-fought 21-7 victory against the Wildcats on the road.
Lexington turned it over four times, including a muffed punt in the end zone that resulted in a North Augusta touchdown that made it a two possession game in the third quarter.
The first mistake came on the Wildcats first drive of the third quarter when a 43-yard field goal was blocked and returned 42 yards to the Lexington 38-yard line. The Yellow Jackets were forced to punt, but that’s when the Wildcats tried to pick up a bouncing ball inside the 10 but couldn’t get a handle on it. Aaron Maddox fell on the ball in the end zone for the easy score.
“Both of those plays, the biggest thing is the momentum,” Stepp said. “We have a chance to build some momentum with a field goal to get points on the board, and we have a blunder up front and let a guy loose in the interior upfront. We know better than that. The punt return was just inexcusable. Can’t make those mistakes and beat a good team.”
First-year North Augusta coach Brian Thomas thought special teams could be a factor.
“We preach all the time that if you win the special teams battle, it takes a lot of pressure off of things,” Thomas said. “Our kids stuck with it and made a play when it was there to make. It was a struggle, but we hung tough against a very good Lexington team.”
It was a defensive battle for much of the night. The teams combined for 11 punts in the first half with North Augusta (7-0, 1-0) coming away with the only points on a 13-yard scoring strike from Trib Reese to Rashad Byrd with 4:05 remaining in the half. That was the only Yellow Jackets drive to reach Wildcats territory in the first half.
Lexington (3-4, 0-1) was limited to 81 yards in the first half and 248 yards total and never could find traction in the running game. Slade Carroll came in averaging over 100 yards per game, but he was limited to 14 yards on 15 carries as the Wildcats averaged 1.7 yards per carry on 41 attempts.
“We don’t single out one player, we just try to play solid defense,” Thomas said. “We played a lot of zone in there and our kids covered well. Getting to the football was a big thing.”
Stepp said the interior of the North Augusta defensive line gave Lexington fits upfront.
“They’re really good up front. Their defensive line, especially those two interior guys are really good football players,” Stepp said. “We knew it was going to be tough sledding coming in. We struggled getting anything going consistently.”
Even with the special teams blunder, Lexington made it a one possession game in the fourth quarter when Jordan Carr scored on a 3-yard run out of the Wildcat formation with 4:20 remaining.
But it took the Yellow Jackets one play to answer.
They played primarily out of the spread, but Cam Matthews took an option pitch from Reese and raced 80 yards down the sideline to make it a two-score game with 4:05 remaining.
“We ran it a couple of times, but we’ve been toying with that a little bit lately,” Thomas said of breaking out the option after running it just a few times up to that point. “Having those two guys back there helps make things happen.”
Despite the setback to start region play, Stepp was pleased with his defense. The Wildcats held North Augusta to 277 yards, with 80 coming on one play. Lexington is healthy for the first time all season, and it showed with Riley Moon back in the rotation. Trey Mitchell led the way with 11 tackles.
“Defensively, they played their tails off. Offensively, we couldn’t get anything going, but we battled and made it a game in the fourth quarter, which is what we wanted to do,” Stepp said. “I’m proud of this group. They’re growing, getting better, but you can’t make mistakes and have four turnovers against a good football team like that and expect to win. We have to clean that up.”
NA – Rashad Byrd 13 pass from Trib Resse (Blake Busby kick) 4:05
NA – Aaron Maddox recovered fumble in end zone (Busby kick) 6:34
L – Jordan Carr 3 run (Chris Kinsley kick) 4:20
NA – Cam Matthews 80 run (Busby kick) 4:05