VALDOSTA — Carlos Del Rio did not know he would be starting Friday’s second-round state Class AAAAAAA playoff game at Lowndes until the team’s pregame meeting before kickoff.
The freshman quarterback was undeterred with the task in front of him, completing 17 of 33 passes for 274 yards and two touchdowns to lead a 36-31 rally past top-ranked Lowndes at Martin Stadium.
The Indians (9-3) rallied from a 24-0 first-half deficit, scoring three touchdowns and a 2-point conversion in the final quarter to pick up the win and end Lowndes undefeated season.
The Vikings (11-1) entered the game averaging more than 50 points per game and holding opponents to fewer than 20 per game, but McEachern held Lowndes to one second-half score, allowing the offense to mount the comeback.
“This was just my shot, and I was ready,” Del Rio said. “This is the best thing ever.”
Genuine Potts had seven catches for 163 yards and two touchdowns. Del Rio found Potts wide-open on the right side for a 30-yard, go-ahead touchdown with 54.8 seconds remaining in the game.
“The way the corners were playing us flat, we knew the under route was there, and coach called it,” Potts said as tears welled up in his eyes. “This is the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve been waiting for this moment.”
Tony Davis intercepted Michael Barrett’s pass in the end zone to seal the win.
“I got a pick on the same route in practice, so I knew it was coming,” Davis said, wearing the “Ball Out Belt” awarded by McEachern coaches for big plays on defense and special teams. “This feels great. We shocked the whole state of Georgia.”
McEachern will get the chance to return home for the quarterfinals, hosting Parkview next week.
Trailing 24-7 at halftime, Del Rio connected with Potts for a 33-yard touchdown on the Indians’ second possession, but Barrett’s 48-yard touchdown run extended Lowndes’ lead to 31-14.
McEachern punted on its next drive, but Paris Brown rushed in from 25 yards out on fourth-and-1, and Evans’ 2-point pass to Jordan Simmons cut the deficit to 31-22 with 3:11 left in the game.
Justin Roberson recovered the onside kick, and Malik Evans’ 38-yard pass to David Martin on the first play from scrimmage trimmed the score to 31-29 with 3:00 remaining.
The knee of Lowndes’ J.D. Lee inadvertently touched the ground at the Vikings’ 4 on the ensuing kickoff, and the Indians forced a punt, giving McEachern the ball at the Lowndes 42 to set up the final scoring drive.
“God made this happen,” McEachern coach Kyle Hockman said. “The kids just kept battling. We had three good drives that didn’t end in points, but we kept going. Coach Bryan Minish did a heck of a job with defensive adjustments, and the guys responded. A lot of kids made unbelievable plays (Friday).”
Brown rushed 19 times for 109 yards and a touchdown. Evans was 3-of-4 for 54 passing yards and two scores. Austin Jones had five catches for 31 yards and a touchdown.
Lowndes scored on its first four possessions and staked a 24-0 lead 4 minutes into the second period. Ghetti Brown ran in from 4 yards out to cap a 10-play, 80-yard opening scoring drive with 8:22 in the first period, and Michael Barrett’s 22-yard pass to Marcus Gary set up Barrett’s 39-yard pass to Tayvonn Kyle for a 14-0 advantage 5 minutes later.
Back-to-back three-and-outs by McEachern resulted in a 1-yard scoring run for Barrett, and a 26-yard field goal from Ashton Musgrove provided the 24-point margin.
Del Rio directed a promising drive on McEachern’s first possession that ended with a fumble recovered by Lowndes’ Josh Brown at the Vikings’ 31, which they ultimately turned into a score.
McEachern got into an offensive groove on its next-to-last series of the first half. The Indians used wildcat formations as well as quarterbacks Del Rio, Evans and Isaiah Lee, but the drive that stalled on the Vikings’ 11.
A third-down sack for Michael Fairbanks on Lowndes’ next possession resulted in a punt, and Del Rio’s 40-yard pass to Potts set up Evans’ 2-yard touchdown throw to Jones, leaving McEachern trailing 24-7 with 32 seconds remaining in the first half.