Ben Wilson's head was down, upset on the sideline as Lakeside's best football season in more than 20 years came to a close.
Lakeside coach Jody Grooms put his hand on the quarterback's neck and offered encouraging words. The Panthers fell to powerful Westside-Macon 48-21 in the second round of the Class AAAA playoffs, and Grooms wanted to be sure no one person carried the blame.
The Seminoles jumped on Lakeside early, scoring two defensive touchdowns in the first six minutes. That the Panthers stayed in the game was a testament to their character, Grooms said.
"We've got good kids that have been brought up in good homes and have been taught the right way to do things," said Grooms, whose team won a region title and claimed the school's first playoff victory. "There was no doubt in my mind they would respond well and fight back and try to overcome some adversity."
Westside recovered a fumble in the end zone on the game's first play. Two series later, the Seminoles returned an interception for another score.
Lakeside's defense, which had been its spark all season, fell victim to Westside's rushing attack. The Seminoles rushed for more than 300 yards and answered each time the Panthers seemed to gain momentum.
Westside returned the opening kickoff of the second half to the Panthers 20 and scored on the first play from scrimmage.
"We were sloppy," Panthers linebacker Alan Marionneaux said. "We weren't playing technique, weren't pursuing to the ball. Those have been the things that have helped us dominate on defense all year."
Lakeside (10-2) was without sophomore Mark Weidenaar, who was found early in the week to have a cracked vertebrae. But the Panthers moved the ball without their leader in all-purpose yards.
A familiar trick play awoke Lakeside fans after Westside took the early lead.
Panthers senior Justin Pitock took a pitch from his slot position, broke a tackle in the backfield and slung a pass to Ricky McMurtrey. McMurtrey split two defenders and completed the 63-yard score. The score cut Westside's lead to a touchdown. McMurtrey scored again on a 37-yard touchdown run with five minutes left in the first half.
Two other scoring opportunities went awry for Lakeside in the second quarter.
A missed 23-yard field goal and turnover on downs each came after Lakeside had driven inside the Seminoles 10.
Reach Stephen Fastenau at (706) 863-6165, ext. 116 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WESTSIDE-MACON 48, LAKESIDE 21
PLAY OF THE GAME: Lakeside struck during the first quarter with a play that has worked for the Panthers before. Senior Justin Pitock took a pitch on a reverse, then threw to Ricky McMurtrey on the left sideline. McMurtrey split two Westside defenders and ran for a 63-yard score.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Westside senior Robert Brown rushed for 204 yards, the most allowed by the Panthers' defense this season. Brown scored two touchdowns.
WHY WESTSIDE WON: The Seminoles didn't need to be flashy, and they allowed their running game to control the tempo after their defense spotted them two touchdowns.
WHY LAKESIDE LOST: The Panthers could not overcome two turnovers that led to Westside touchdowns before the crowd had settled into its seats.