Adairsville head football coach Eric Bishop planned to play it safe, but when the moment came, the Riverboat Gambler couldn’t resist living up to his moniker.
After Tigers quarterback Conner Crunkelton scored on a 31-yard touchdown run with 1:44 left in the fourth quarter of Friday’s home game against Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, Bishop figured it was as good a time as any for Adairsville to go for the jugular. He dialed up a 2-point conversion attempt, and an offsides call on the Warriors, which moved the ball to the 1 1/2-yard line, solidified the decision.
“We had talked about it on the headsets, but we actually flipped and changed our minds,” Bishop said. “We just felt like we had the momentum.”
Although Crunkelton admitted afterwards that he would have voted to kick the extra point, the sophomore again kept the ball himself on the conversion try, following his blockers into the end zone for the final points in a thrilling 22-21 victory.
“I was telling them [to go for] 1, because we could at least tie and go to overtime,” Crunkelton said. “… But when we decided to go for 2, I knew I was the guy, and I was going to do it for us.”
While the call to go for 2 was certainly the biggest gamble, it wasn’t the only trick Bishop had up his sleeve. He opted for an onside kick in the first half, and Adairsville executed it to perfection.
The decision came after the Tigers had snatched a 14-7 lead on a fumble recovery in the end zone. Armed with plenty of momentum, Adairsville had a golden opportunity to go up two scores just before halftime. The first of several costly fumbles ended the possession, and Bishop said that failure played into his decision to go for the win in the closing minutes.
Crunkelton’s touchdown and conversion capped a nearly flawless go-ahead drive. The Tigers picked up first downs on four of five plays just prior to the winning touchdown run.
“The thing I’m most proud of is that two-minute drill,” Bishop said. “It’s something we do every Thursday at the end of the script for practice. We do it from the first day of helmets to Thursday every week.”
As confident as Adairsville was with the late lead, LFO still had almost two minutes and two timeouts to work with. However, the Warriors were forced to try something they didn’t seem comfortable doing — passing the ball. The Tigers took advantage, as Malachi Gardner had a tackle behind the line of scrimmage on third down and K.J. Weaver recorded a sack to force a turnover on downs.
“It goes way back to the summer,” Crunkelton said of what made the difference. “We’re always up here working. … I think that’s what put us over the edge right there and got us the win.”
The final LFO possession was much different than its initial one, as the Warriors looked unstoppable in the first quarter. On the fourth play from scrimmage, Jevonnie Womble turned an option pitch into a 52-yard touchdown run.
“That’s a situation of where we can’t mimic their speed in practice,” Bishop said. “We just had to get timed up to it and get our game speed on.”
Adairsville managed to answer back on its first series. Crunkelton connected with Wade Conduff, who made a great adjustment on an underthrown ball, to help tie the game at 7-7.
“He did a great job,” Bishop said of Crunkelton, who accounted for 110 total yards. “We feel great about him being a leader. He does it every day in practice. He’s a natural leader.”
The Warriors offense was not deterred and had a 23-yard run to begin its next drive. After the Tigers finally showed some resistance, back-to-back offsides penalties turned a third-and-7 into a first down.
LFO had a fresh set of downs and the ball in the red zone to begin the second period, but that’s when things started to unravel for the Warriors offense. A touchdown was wiped off the board due to a holding penalty. On the next snap, LFO coughed up the football, and Savaun Henderson recovered to keep the game tied.
The Warriors punted on their next possession, and their ensuing series went even worse. LFO muffed a solid punt by preseason all-state selection Emanuel Lopez. Although the Warriors recovered, a holding penalty on first down backed the visitors up to the 7-yard line. An option pitch resulted in another touchdown — this one for the Tigers, as Courtney Slocum pounced on the loose ball in the end zone.
That’s when Bishop opted to go for the ultimately successful onside kick. Adairsville looked set to take a two-score lead before Ja’Maury Johnson fumbled inside the 10-yard line.
The pendulum swung back towards LFO, and the Warriors executed a nice two-minute drill to drive into Tigers territory. However, Adairsville made a stop on fourth down to ensure the home side took a 7-point lead into the break.
Having deferred to start the game, the Tigers had another chance to double their advantage coming out of halftime. Eli Agnew, though, lost a fumble just 50 seconds into the second half. Teammate Dakota King bailed him out, ripping the ball out of the hands of an LFO ballcarrier just moments later.
“We made some mistakes, and they made their plays,” Bishop said. “Momentum went back and forth, but we were able to capitalize in the end.”
Adairsville crossed midfield but ultimately punted into the end zone. LFO used another huge run by Womble to set up a short touchdown to tie the game. Just before the end of the third quarter, the Tigers had to punt again.
The Warriors put together a methodical drive, consuming more than nine minutes of game clock. By the time quarterback Malachi Powell scored on a 3-yard keeper, the home team had just 3:28 left to respond.
It proved to be more than enough time for Bishop’s crew to answer and for the Riverboat Gambler to cash in on one final bet.