Ellis did most of his damage in the second half, when he carried the ball 19 times for 105 yards behind an offensive line that imposed its will on Walton’s defense.
“I think we did,” said Peachtree Ridge coach Mark Fleetwood about wearing down the Walton front seven. “That’s what they wanted to do. (The offense) came to the sideline and said, ‘We need to run the ball.’ It was all about staying with the plan.”
Trailing 17-16 in the third quarter, Peachtree Ridge (1-0) nearly ran the plan to perfection.
On first down from the 20, Ellis broke his biggest run of the game, a 43-yarder down the left sideline. One pass and seven runs later, Ellis walked up the middle, through a large hole and into the end zone to give Peachtree Ridge the lead.
The Lions put the game away in the fourth quarter when they got the ball with 6:04 to play. They went on a 13-play drive, highlighted by nine Ellis runs for 34 tough yards.
While the drive ended with a missed 46-yard field-goal attempt, the Lions used more than 5:30 minutes and left the Raiders with only 24 seconds to try to go 80 yards.
“They’re a good football team,” Walton coach Rocky Hidalgo said of the Lions. “We’re a good football team. We just lost the game.”
Early on, the Raiders (0-1) had a different plan for Peachtree Ridge.
After falling being 3-0, the Raiders came out and marched 68 yards in 10 plays before Price Wilson’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Maurice Gibson gave Walton a 7-3 lead.
Walton increased the lead on its next drive, when Wilson connected with Jordan McCray on a 35-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-3. Wilson, the Louisiana Tech-bound recruit, finished the game 14-of-25 for 169 yards, two touchdowns and an interceptions.
But instead of riding the momentum the rest of the half, the Raiders began to make mistakes.
Four potential scoring drives — two in each half — were derailed by either holding or procedure penalties. A missed assignment in the secondary allowed the Lions’ Myron Burton to get behind the defense and catch a 63-yard touchdown pass from Chance Thrasher on third-and-13, which allowed Peachtree Ridge to pull within 13-10. And then, after a Christian Lucas 32-yard field goal made it 17-13, the Lions’ Dru Moody intercepted a Wilson pass with 16 seconds left in the half.
Pantels kicked a 53-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter, and after a half dominated by Walton, the Raiders went into the locker room with only a 17-16 lead.
“That’s what changed the game for us,” Fleetwood said. “The kids came into the locker room at halftime with a big boost of adrenaline.
“Then we knew, if we could establish the run in the second half, we’d have a good chance to have some success.”
While the interception may have been the turning point in Fleetwood’s mind, Hidalgo said the Raiders should have never been in that situation.
“We played hard,” he said, “but we made too many mental mistakes. We had holding penalties all night long and each were drive killers.”
Thrasher finished the day 10-of-22 for 213 yards, a touchdown and an interception for the Lions.
Walton’s K.K. Brooks ran for 113 yards on 20 carries, and Gibson finished with seven catches for 72 yards.