Allatoona’s players and coaches pose for a photo after beating Lambert on Saturday to reach the semifinals of the Class 6A/7A state tournament.

ACWORTH — Samantha Beck scored on a 66-yard punt return, while Haley Coyle ran in for the extra point to give Allatoona a 7-0 victory over Lambert on Saturday in the quarterfinals of the Class 6A/7A state tournament at Cobb EMC/Buccaneer Stadium.

Allatoona (9-0-1) advanced to take on Cobb County neighbor Hillgrove in the semifinals Wednesday at the Home Depot Backyard adjacent to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Beck scored with 8:45 remaining in the first half as the Lady Buccaneers’ defense controlled the game and kept Lambert (6-4-1) out of the end zone.

After corralling the punt on the right side of the field, Beck rushed up the middle before encountering a few Lambert defenders. Rolling to her left, Beck avoided one more defender while racing down the left sideline to put Allatoona on the board.

“It feels good. It feels empowering,” Beck said on the feeling of being the hero of the game. “I saw four girls in front of me, and I was like, ‘Oh, crap!’ I couldn’t get through them, so I had to go around them. I had one more girl one-on-one, and I was able to outrun her and just ran straight for the end zone.

“I’m surprised it came down to that punt return. I thought we could have done better as a team, but our defense was strong enough to hold them.

Beck also recorded a sack, while Maci Strickland totaled two sacks, including one for a 5-yard loss on fourth down just inside Allatoona territory with 8 minutes left in the game.

Lambert faced fourth-and-4 on its final possession, but was stopped 2 yards from picking up the first down.

Lambert punted twice and turned the ball over on downs three times. Beck’s punt return was the first time the Lady Longhorns’ had been scored on in their last six games.

“(Allatoona’s) defense really brought the pressure,” Lambert coach Scott Luthart said. “They really disrupted what we wanted to do. I thought we had something going on our last drive, but we came up short.

“It’s a heartbreaking loss, but I thought our defense played well. We missed a couple of turnover opportunities, but I’m super proud of our group and excited about our potential going forward.”

Lauren Ford was 6-of-13 passing for 30 yards to lead Allatoona. Strickland caught two passes for 14 yards, and Ava Garofalo had two receptions for 12 yards.

CC Philips totaled 11 carries for 35 yards to lead Lambert, while she also went 4-of-9 passing for 15 yards. Ava Falite recorded four catches for 12 yards.

“I knew it would be a defensive game going in,” Allatoona coach Jordan Davis said. “We talked about getting good field position, protecting the football and not giving them short fields, and we were able to do that. Our defense is aggressive, and if we could control those parts of the game, I thought we’d have a good chance.”

Davis, however, did not account for Allatoona’s aggressive defense to rack up six penalties for 62 yards.

“This is a new sport, so different things are called each game,” Davis said. “It took some adjustment on our part to figure out how the refs were calling things. I thought our girls did a good job. It was frustrating early, but we adjusted.”

Beck’s punt return eased Davis’ frustration, however, and proved to be the difference in the game.

“I’d been begging for a punt return for a touchdown all season, and we finally got one,” Davis said. “That can turn a game, and it did for us (Saturday).

“We’re excited to advance. This is a new thing, and I’m really glad for the girls. They get to keep this thing going and play another game.”

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