By Will Heath, for The Tribune
LINCOLN — After defeating Pell City a week ago, Leeds head coach Jerry Hood declared his team “not any good yet.”
On Friday, the fourth-ranked Green Wave found themselves tested, trailing 13-6 entering the fourth quarter on the road against a staunch region opponent.
“I tried to tell my kids, they’d only played one game, and you know how kids are,” Hood said. “They read about themselves in the paper, they’re 2-0, they think … whatever. We came out just wasting this opportunity.”
Hood’s squad didn’t waste anything in the fourth quarter, rallying to tie the game and then scoring a game-winning touchdown with 5 seconds to play. They escaped with a 19-13 victory.
“I do applaud their resilience,” Hood said.
The key moment came from defensive back Tanner Chambers. Burned for a 76-yard touchdown on the third play of the second half, Chambers intercepted Lincoln quarterback Jack Poarch twice down the stretch. His second, which he returned to the Lincoln 30-yard line, set up the game-winning score.
“Our defense, we’re a family,” Chambers said. “And we fight. It doesn’t matter if there’s 5 seconds on the clock, 5 minutes, 15 minutes, doesn’t matter. We’re going to fight back.”
The sequence was a coda to a hard-fought victory for Leeds (3-0, 1-0), which struggled with penalties and turnovers in their region opener. Rametrius Yelverton, the senior tailback, led the offense with 147 all-purpose yards, accounting for all three Green Wave touchdowns. Hood described junior quarterback Jarod Latta’s play as “out of his mind” as the junior finished with 126 yards passing, one touchdown and one interception.
After a scoreless first quarter, Lincoln struck first following a failed fake punt attempt. Poarch snuck the football in from a yard out to give the Golden Bears (1-2, 0-1) a 6-0 lead. The senior would finish with 201 all-purpose yards, and accounted for both Lincoln touchdowns.
Yelverton tied it up on the following drive. In the second half, Poarch found Camare Hampton down the middle of the field; suddenly, Lincoln led 13-6, a lead they carried into the fourth quarter.
“I thought they fought their guts off, and really played as hard as I can ask them to play,” Lincoln head coach Matt Zedaker said after the game. “Our effort was perfect.”
Leeds appeared to have squandered a chance to tie the game early in the fourth, when a fumbled exchange gave the Golden Bears the football inside their own 20. However, Leeds held them without a first down, and a short punt set up the Green Wave in prime field position, On third-and-goal, Latta tossed it to Yelverton, and the PAT by Jackson Arthur tied the game.
The Golden Bears appeared to be on the verge of answering, after a fourth-down conversion gave them the ball at the Leeds 47. A botched snap, however, made it 2nd and 18, and Chambers leapt over Hampton to intercept the pass on the next play.
“I knew it was coming, because I saw the cross in the backfield,” Chambers said. “Stayed in my pedal, high-pointed the ball and made the play.”
Friday’s result was as much a statement for Lincoln as it was for the Green Wave.
“If that’s (Leeds) the No. 4 team (in 5A), this is a pretty good team right here too,” Zedaker said.
“They’re (Lincoln) as good as we are,” he said. “They just came up short tonight. There will be a year we play when we come up short against them.”
The win also means this week’s matchup with archrival Moody gets some extra juice. The Blue Devils will visit Homer Smiles Field undefeated, vying for first place in the region.
“I think it builds a lot of momentum,” Chambers said. “I think we’re going to be good going down the road.”