Wildcats fumble 7 times, blow 21-0 lead in upset


The ground game worked very well for Watson Chapel in the first half. Putting the ball on the ground cost the Wildcats the game.

Watson Chapel lost five of seven fumbles and Hot Springs Lakeside — which committed six fumbles of its own — came from a 21-0 deficit to stun the Wildcats 25-21 Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. Lakeside went ahead with 2:38 left when running back Garrett Garner bounced off a tackle on fourth-and-goal from the 1 and dove into the end zone.

The loss ended the Wildcats’ hopes of winning at least a share of the 5A-South Conference. Undefeated Camden Fairview, which hosts Watson Chapel next Friday, wrapped up the conference championship with a 47-14 win over Hot Springs.

“We didn’t help our defense at all on the offensive side of the ball by turning it over,” Watson Chapel coach George Shelton said. “It’s a game of momentum. They were able to gain the momentum. My hat’s off to them. They did a good job. They hung around, stuck around, made the plays you have to make in order to win a ballgame.”

Lakeside has now set up a do-or-die game with Hot Springs next week for the fourth and final state playoff spot from the conference.

The final 24 minutes were a complete turnaround from a first half in which the Wildcats (6-3, 4-2 5A-South) gained 302 of its 309 total yards on the ground and did not punt. The Rams (5-4, 3-3) held the Wildcats to 113 total yards from there, as three lost fumbles, a punt and a turnover on downs doomed to host team.

“We were pretty pleased with our production for sure to be up 21-7 (at halftime),” Shelton said.

Lakeside finished off a pair of long drives in the fourth quarter to take the lead, overcoming three lost fumbles of its own. The Rams wound up with 294 total yards, getting 188 yards on 13-of-31 passing combined by Garrett Carson and Clint Smedley, who alternated between quarterback and wide receiver.

Twice both teams exchanged fumbles on back-to-back plays. On the second instance, Lakeside capitalized the very next play with a 26-yard touchdown pass from Carson to Teveon Perkins to pull within 21-13 early in the third quarter.

“I thought that was a real momentum shift for them for us to make a mistake down at that end and not go up by three scores,” Shelton said. “We lost the second half, big time.”

The Rams then made the Wildcats punt for the first time, but they could not take advantage. They capitalized on a Wildcat fumble early in the fourth quarter by going 54 yards in eight plays to make it 21-19, as Carson completed a 17-yard pass to Garner. Carson’s two-point conversion pass was incomplete.

Watson Chapel’s next offensive play was a bad handoff that resulted in a fumble recovery by Lakeside’s Joshua Bourgeois. Lakeside then marched 56 yards in 12 plays, taking its only lead of the game on Garner’s dramatic dive.

Carson took a bad snap on the conversion attempt and found Teveon Perkins, but Perkins caught the ball out of bounds in the back of the end zone.

SanAntonio Cole threw a pair of completions to start Watson Chapel’s next series, but two low snaps caused him to inadvertently take a knee, including on a fourth-and-4 with one minute remaining. Watson Chapel used all three of its timeouts on Lakeside’s next possession and got the ball back at its own 23 with 30 seconds left.

After Cole ran for 17 yards, he was sacked by Grant Carter for a 1-yard loss. Cole took the next snap with time running down and Devonte Battles caught a deflected pass, only to be tackled at the Lakeside 30 to end the game.

“We were opportunistic, and that’s something we haven’t been in a while,” Lakeside coach Jared McBride said. “That’s the way we’re supposed to play in that defense.”

Cole completed 6 of 10 passes for 77 yards. Battles was held to zero yards on three carries after gaining 98 yards and two touchdowns on four first-half carries.

Five of Watson Chapel’s six first-half drives didn’t last more than four plays, so much of the Wildcats’ offense came on big plays. Their longest play was a 60-yard touchdown sprint by Battles early in the second quarter, one snap after Lakeside turned the ball over on downs.

Their first possession was their longest drive of the game, a nine-play, 82-yard march capped by a 9-yard Battles touchdown run.

Lakeside squandered a golden opportunity after going 15 plays on its next series to the Watson Chapel 9. Josh Balentine recovered a fumble for the Wildcats, but they lost it right back to the Rams on the next play.

The Wildcats pounced on a second Rams fumble and marched three plays from their 28 to take a 21-0 lead with 9:12 left before halftime. James Coller followed a 25-yard Marquis Handley run with a 47-yard TD bolt up the middle, breaking free from a gang of Rams to go all the way.

The Rams finally cashed in on their next drive. Carson completed a 14-yard pass to Smedley with 4:41 left to finish off an 83-yard march in 12 plays.

Garner had 91 yards on 28 rushes.