LaFAYETTE, Ga. — There is no truth to the rumor Christian Heritage's game plan Friday night was to lull LaFayette to sleep in the first half and then put on a wild rally.
The second part did happen, though, and the first — while not intentional — definitely worked as the Lions came back from a 26-0 halftime deficit to win 35-26.
Christian Heritage quarterback Matthew Neff completed 12 of 18 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns in the second half to spark the comeback and propel the Lions to their first 3-0 start since joining the Georgia High School Association six years ago.
"I told the guys at the half if they could score four touchdowns in the first half we could score four touchdowns in the second half," said Christian Heritage coach Jay Poag, whose team was outgained 304 yards to 13 in the first half. "They missed two extra points, so I said we were going to win 28-26, and the kids believed it.
"What a comeback. Magical."
That was the word early for LaFayette quarterback Vyshonn Daniel, who completed 15 of 16 passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. After the first two drives ended on lost fumbles, the Ramblers (3-1) scored on three of their next four drives.
Austin Rodgers, who caught Daniel's first touchdown pass, intercepted a Neff pass with 36 seconds left in the first half, and when Andrew Pendergrass scored on a 9-yard run seconds later to make it 26-0, it appeared a running clock was in the game's future.
However, up stepped Neff and his dynamic receivers, Zach Gentry and Evan Lester. The two split all the yards on a 66-yard touchdown drive to open the second half, with a Neff 38-yard pass to Gentry providing the points.
After a LaFayette punt, Neff and Lester hooked up for 43 yards, then Gentry did the honors to cap an 86-yard drive with a 36-yard touchdown catch. The rally was on.
"You know, we had several throws we felt could have gone for touchdowns in the first half, but Matthew just kept missing them," Poag said. "He regrouped at halftime — and take your hat off to that kid — and made some great throws, and our kids made some great catches.
A three-and-out, forced by a Trey Kruse sack of Daniel, led to another quick drive. A Neff 14-yard completion to Lester was aided by a LaFayette personal foul and three plays later, on the first play of the final quarter, the two hooked up for an 18-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 26-21.
A LaFayette fumble two plays later, recovered by Christian Heritage's Nathan Davis, set up the Lions at the Ramblers' 32. Two completions to Lester — he finished with eight catches for 116 yards — moved the ball to the 2. Two plays later, a fumbled handoff was recovered by Christian Heritage's Mitchell Herndon in the end zone.
Neff hit Gentry for the two-point conversion, and the Lions led 29-26 with 8:25 to play.
The lead was solidified when Syd Reece sacked Daniel at the LaFayette 48, forcing a punt that traveled just 4 yards. On the ensuing possession, Neff's 12-yard scramble on third-and-11 extended the drive, and Gage Leonard broke it open with a 31-yard touchdown run on the next play.
Gentry finished with 100 yards on six catches. LaFayette's Alan Hu had 98 yards receiving and 50 rushing to go with a touchdown, with Pendergrass adding 88 yards on six receptions.
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6296. Follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.