There's no quit in these Lafayette Generals.
Two weeks after overcoming a 13-point, second-half deficit to defeat Tates Creek in their regular-season finale, the Generals started the 6A playoffs Friday night with a far more improbable comeback victory, 27-21, over Paul Laurence Dunbar.
This time, Lafayette trailed 21-7 midway through the fourth quarter. Its offense had been going nowhere most of the night, and there was little reason to expect a different result when junior quarterback Walker Wood and the rest of the Generals took the field on their own 10-yard-line, needing two scores to pull even with the Bulldogs.
Instead, Wood led Lafayette on a 17-play, 90-yard drive, converting two fourth downs before finding Mason Alstatt with a 2-yard touchdown pass to cut the deficit to 21-14.
That gave the Generals hope. What happened next almost ended their season.
Three plays into the ensuing possession, Dunbar sophomore running back Jefferson Harkless took a handoff on 3rd-and-5 from the Bulldogs 20 and busted loose for what looked like a sure touchdown. Lafayette sophomore Ean Shaw didn't give up on the play and ran Harkless down from behind after he had taken it 77 yards to the Lafayette 3.
Three plays after that, the unthinkable happened.
"I can't even explain it," said Generals Coach Eric Shaw.
Dunbar fullback LaDarrius Morton, who had punished Lafayette defenders all night, received a handoff inside the 5-yard-line, and the ball popped loose. Lafayette's Rickey Johnson scooped it up at the 8, ran 10 yards and then shuffled a lateral to Alstatt, who took it the rest of the way for what was officially scored as an 82-yard fumble return for a touchdown. After the extra point, the game was tied at 21, and the Generals had erased a 14-point deficit in less than three minutes.
"You didn't see them get down," Shaw said. "They were a little frustrated with how things were going, but they continued to fight. I'm so, so proud of them. This is a great group of young men that have matured over the past two or three weeks. For them to grow and overcome situations like that, you can't ask for more than that."
Dunbar got the ball back with 2:12 left, electing to run out the clock and take the game to overtime.
One the first possession of the extra period, Wood scored on a 1-yard quarterback keeper to give the Generals a 27-21 lead. The extra point attempt was no good, but Lafayette wouldn't need it.
A false start against Dunbar backed the Bulldogs up to the 15-yard-line on their overtime possession, and three running plays got them down to the Lafayette 2, setting up a 4th-and-goal play with the game on the line.
Harkless was stuffed by junior linebacker Branden Layne at the 1-yard-line, and the Generals ran off their home field in celebration.
Wood, a University of Kentucky commitment, was 18-for-37 passing for two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran 18 times for 67 yards and the game-winning score in overtime.
Just before the Generals took the field trailing by 14 in the closing minutes, Wood was running down the sideline, rallying his teammates, assuring them that the game was not yet lost.
"Those are examples of the will to win," Shaw said. "He's a very intelligent, hard-working (player). That whole O-line and that whole offense — they believe in one another, and they believe they can get it done."
Alstatt finished with eight catches for 78 yards and two touchdowns (plus the long fumble-return TD to force overtime), and junior receiver Quinten Brown added eight catches for 91 yards. Ean Shaw led the Generals' defense with 15 tackles, none more important than the one that kept Harkless from scoring late in the fourth quarter.
Lafayette's victory overshadowed a phenomenal rushing attack by the Bulldogs, who gained 344 yards on 57 carries. Harkless led the way with 25 carries for 182 yards and all three Dunbar touchdowns. Morton added 90 yards on 17 carries, and senior DeRante Sanders pitched in with 70 yards on 12 attempts.
Dunbar senior Maurice Carter intercepted Wood twice.
Lafayette will host Henry Clay next Friday night in the second round of the playoffs. The Generals defeated the Blue Devils 48-34 on Sept. 25.
"I expect them to come out and do what they do," Shaw said of the rematch with Henry Clay. "And we're going to try to line up and match that intensity. I don't think we'll have a problem with that now, after tonight."
Lafayette 27, Paul Laurence Dunbar 21
Dunbar 0 7 14 0 0—21
Lafayette 0 7 0 14 6—27
D—Jefferson Harkless 10 run (Trey Underwood kick); L—Mason Alstatt 16 pass from Walker Wood (Colton Duprey kick); D—Harkless 2 run (run failed); D—Harkless 7 run (Harkless run); L—Alstatt 2 pass from Wood (Duprey kick); L—Alstatt 82 fumble return (Duprey kick); L—Wood 1 run (kick failed);
Records: Lafayette 9-2; Paul Laurence Dunbar 3-8