The Lions (4-4, 3-2 Region 4-AAA) turned the ball over seven times in the game — all fumbles — coughing up scoring opportunities and giving the Yellow Jackets (3-4, 2-2) more than enough to take advantage and win the game.
It took just one play for Rockmart’s Kwame Peek to make an impact, as he caught a 58-yard pass on the first play of the game for the early 6-0 lead.
“Seven turnovers, we gave up a big play on the first play and it kind of rattled us. We never regrouped it seemed like. I do think that the kids fought to the end. We just played a bad game, turned the ball over a bunch and had a bunch of penalties,” Central coach Grant Chesnut said.
Then came the most controversial play of the game — and one that put the Lions back behind the 8-ball — as Rockmart fumbled, the ball was kicked around, Central thought a whistle had blown, but Yellow Jacket quarterback Julian Welch picked it up and scampered over 60 yards untouched for the touchdown and the 14-0 lead.
A Jacob Barnes punt return got the Lions back in the game. Barnes returned the punt 25 yards down to the 27-yard line that led to a 21-yard touchdown run from Curtis Davenport to make it 14-7.
But the Lions couldn’t hold onto the ball from there, as they fumbled on their final four drives of the half, leading to a pair of touchdowns for the Yellow Jackets to take a 28-7 advantage at halftime.
“We were down here on the 20 and turned it over. Every drive of substance we got going, we turned the ball over. They threw the big play on first down, they stopped us on our drive, they scored again and we went down and answered. We had a chance. It was 14-7 at that time. We had a chance to get back in the ball game like we’ve done all year — we just kept turning the ball over,” Chesnut said.
As Central finished with eight fumbles on the night — losing seven — six of those came on consecutive possessions. Four fumbles ended the first half and two more started the second half, as the Lion offense never was able to build a drive or capitalize on one.
The defense for the Lions did come up big.
Aside from two long touchdown passes to Peek, the only scores allowed were on a short field and the controversial fumble call, holding Rockmart to just 225 yards of total offense. The Lions kept the Yellow Jackets off the scoreboard in the second half, partially thanks to a touchdown-saving tackle by Tucker Simpkins.
The Central coach couldn’t pinpoint what the ball-control problem was, but he knows there must have been one.
“Quite honestly, without seeing the film, it just seemed like one of those weird nights. Our kids were carrying the ball high and tight, and I’m sure I’ll see on the film that we were doing some poor things, as far as ball-security. Because you don’t have seven turnovers unless you’re doing some poor things. We’ll have to see. We’ll have to watch the film and correct the mistakes,” Chesnut said.
Jayleen Terry led the Lions offensively with 118 yards on 17 rushes, while Wesley Long completed 7-of-12 passing for 87 yards.
Now the Lions’ focus has to shift away from a pair of tough losses to Jackson, Atlanta, which Central hosts next week.
“We’ve got to keep working. We’ve got to assess what we did wrong, fix it and move on. It is what it is. That’s the great thing about football. We’ve got another opportunity right now, thank the lord,” Chesnut said. “Our kids’ character is true. Our work ethic is good. The only way it becomes [a continuing problem] is if we allow it to continue, and I don’t think we will.”