Lions end 21-game drought

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 7, 2004

It had been three years since the windows on the Kingwood bus steamed over from the breath of victory cheers.

Three years since Jerry Stearns was extended a congratulatory handshake from an opposing coach.

Three years since senior running back Jake Chandler went back to school excited about what his classmates and teachers might say about Friday’s game.

The team bus rolled into Alabaster late Friday night, two-and-a-half hours after the Kingwood Lions beat Sparta Academy on the road for the season’s first win, ending a 21-game losing streak that dated back to 2001.

&uot;It was just a great, great feeling,&uot; said Stearns, one of the winningest active high school football coaches in Central Alabama. &uot;They’ve worked so hard for the past few years. To finally see them enjoy the fruits of their labor was exciting.&uot;

After his Lions defeated Sparta, 21-7, Stearns, who is no stranger to winning football, had to think of something to say to a group of young men who were.

&uot;I just told them it was a great win and that on Monday I was going to work their tails off,&uot; Stearns said.

&uot;We’re certainly not going to relax simply because we won a ballgame.&uot;

Stearns has been patient in recent years as a lack of experienced players and placement in a classification with larger schools took their tolls on the Kingwood football program.

This season, the Lions find themselves competing in 2A after AISA reclassification. The team features a roster with three senior players, their first in several years.

Led by seniors Andrew Pearce, Jake Chandler and Gabe Gamache, the Lions’ arrival was just a matter of time, Stearns said.

&uot;I have been patiently waiting for this bunch to grow up, and I think they’ve done that,&uot; Stearns said.

The Kingwood defense made a statement early in the game with Griffin Glenn meeting the Warriors fullback at the line of scrimmage and driving him backward on the the first play from scrimmage.

Sophomore linebacker Nick Holcombe’s tackle for a six-yard loss forced a Sparta punt.

The Lions opened their first offensive series with several running plays by Chandler, fullback Matt Owens and quarterback Andrew Pearce.

Pearce capped the drive with a 17-yard touchdown run down the right sideline with 5:58 remaining in the first quarter. Gamache added the extra point.

&uot;We were just ready mentally and physically,&uot; Pearce said. &uot;We knew we could win and we showed it.&uot;

Kingwood carried its 7-0 lead into the half and opened the third quarter with two first downs behind the running of Chandler and Pearce before stalling on the Sparta 20-yard-line.

But the Kingwood defense quickly got the ball back for the Lions forcing a punt after a three-and-out.

Pearce and Chandler quickly went to work on the Warriors defense, scoring the Lions second touchdown of the night on an option play. Pearce pitched to Chandler who rumbled 32 yards for the Kingwood score. Gamache nailed the extra point off the hold of freshman Nathan Pearce with 6:04 remaining in the third quarter.

Andrew Pearce intercepted a Sparta pass on the following possesion and returned it 30 yards to the Sparta 42.

Tough running by Owens, Chandler and sophomore John Butts moved the Lions inside the 10 yard line.

On third down Pearce found junior tight end Lakin Spinks in the endzone to give Kingwood a 21-0 lead.

&uot;We knew this was the game to break (the losing streak) and we were just ready to go,&uot; Spinks said.

&uot;That last quarter seemed to take forever,&uot; he said. &uot;I was very relieved when it was finally over.&uot;

Sparta’s only scoring drive of the night came in the fourth quarter and covered 35 yards in eight plays.

Sparta tailback Tony Raines capped the drive with a three-yard touchdown run followed by a succesful PAT that left the score 21-7 with 5:58 remaining in the game.

Chandler finished the night with 105 yards on 10 carries and one touchdown. Andrew Pearce had 53 yards on 13 attempts and a score while Butts rushed for 55 yards on seven carries.

Spinks led the team with 12 tackles (six solo).

Chandler said the win was exciting but that the team must look ahead to this week’s matchup with Cornerstone Christian School.

Just hours after the game, the senior was at home watching game tape to see what he could work on to improve for Kingwood’s game against the Chargers.

&uot;It fealt really good and I’m excited that we got one, but I can’t really be excited until the end of the season,&uot; Chandler said.

Dennis Butts contributed to this report