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Gray plays big in win over St. George’s

Gryphon RB Timber King finding his way around for the end run

At the season’s first pep rally, several Lausanne football players dressed as cheerleaders and did an original dance routine.

Students went “crazy,” said Lausanne Head Football Coach Kevin Locastro.

“How are we going to win a state championship with a bunch of cheerleaders?” he joked. “They are not scared to put themselves out there and have fun.”

Fun for the Lynx (5-0, 2-0 in Division II-AA) is a 32-game winning streak, a roster with 16 seniors, Michigan commit Eric Gray, who has been named Mr. Football two straight seasons, and an eye on winning a third straight state championship.

Eric Gray

“I feel we have the pieces to make a three-peat possible,” said Lausanne quarterback Schyler Forest after the Lynx’ 55-14 region victory over St. George’s on Friday at St. George’s.

Tying a career high, Gray scored six touchdowns and rushed for 197 yards on 11 carries. He has scored 19 touchdowns this season. His 97-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was a game-changer after the Lynx recovered a fumble.

Forest completed 7 of 13 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown while averaging 20.9 yards per pass. Wide receiver Jaylon Johnson averaged 24 yards a catch on his four receptions for 96 yards, a team-high.

“I thought our offensive line played extremely well. They got movement and opened up some holes. I thought our wide receivers (Johnson, Cameron Sims, Chad Partee) blocked pretty well on the perimeter in the outside run game,” said Locastro, who is in his fifth year as head coach.

“Coming in knowing that you are a little better than your opponent,” he added, “but also knowing at the same time that the opponent is good enough to beat you if you don’t play at a high level, our thing is not necessarily winning the games on Friday night it’s having the opportunity to grow and get better.”

Ranked No. 1 in the state in the Associated Press Division II-AA poll and No. 5 overall among state high schools in USA Today’s Super poll, the Lynx were trying to avoid a repeat of Nov. 13, 2015.

That was their last loss. St. George’s beat them in the state quarterfinals.

With the most passing yards in Shelby-Metro with 1,315, St. George’s quarterback Spencer Smith threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Smith in the fourth quarter and a 55-yard pass to Smith in the second quarter that got to the Lynx 5. Smith completed 10 of 19 passes for 214 yards, a 21.4 yard average.

“It’s very humbling,” said Smith of being the passing leader. “It shows my hard work is paying off. I couldn’t have done it without the guys standing next to me and my line (Cameron Turner, Colton Turner, William Irby, Jacquavious Pryor, Kyle Gasaway).”

It was Isaac Smith’s longest touchdown reception this season and sixth TD. He caught 4 passes for 145 yards, 36.3 yards per catch. Spencer Smith leads Shelby-Metro with 16 passing touchdowns. Smith threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Nick Seward in the fourth quarter.

“The touchdown passes came a little late in the game. The first half hurt us,” said Spencer Smith, who has offers from the University of Tennessee at Martin and Western Illinois and a preferred walk-on offer from Middle Tennessee.

Justin Bray called Smith the best quarterback he has seen and Issac “a Power 5 receiver.”

Lausanne’s game plan was to put pressure on Smith and not let him get comfortable in the pocket said Locastro.

The Lynx also wanted to dominate both lines of scrimmage.

The Gryphons entered with a 3-2 record and leading the region with a 3-0 record.

“We like being underdogs,” said St. George’s first-year Head Coach Andre Lott, a former cornerback at Tennessee and a safety for four NFL teams.

Despite the loss, Lott saw the Gryphons competing every down.

“That is the biggest thing regardless of the score. You have to play four quarters,” he said. “With 13 seniors this is their last year. They want to fight every period of the game.”

The first period ended with the Lynx leading 7-0. After a 23-yard pass from Forest to Johnson, Gray scored from the 1. Isaac Weiss kicked the PAT.

The Gryphons began an 80-yard drive that almost made it to the end zone. Timber King and Spencer Smith each had 13 yard runs. Smith then threw the 55-yarder to Issac Smith to the Lynx 5. On the next play Spencer Smith fumbled on the 1 and on the next play Gray ran 97 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

In the spring, Gray won the state 100-meters run.

“When he hit that 97-yarder I think that kind of broke their backs but he is the kind of guy that can touch it and go the distance any time you put the ball in his hands. He is a heck of a weapon,” said Locastro of Gray, who has rushed for 1,136 yards on 93 carries in five games, a 12.2-yard average.

Gray said, “That was a big turning point for us. When you can go 97 on a team that is very demoralizing and I think took the hope away form them.”

Spencer Smith said, “You have to have a short-term memory. That is the way football has to be played. You have to forget about things and take a play at a time. You have to regroup and make sure your guys trust you.”

Scoring all the Lynx touchdowns in the first half, Gray caught a 26-yard pass from Forest for a 21-0 lead after Weiss’ PAT. It was his first TD reception of the season.

“Eric is so versatile, we can use him anywhere on the field,” said Forest.

A 27-yard pass from Forest to Johnson put the Lynx on the Gryphons’ 12. Gray scored from there and it was 28-0.

In the next series, a pass breakup by Lausanne’s Jalen Denton forced Carsten Haddad to punt. Gray then ran 47 yards for a touchdown and it was 34-0 at halftime. The PAT was blocked.

The Lynx had 309 yards offense in the first half and Gray had 183 yards rushing on 10 carries. Forest completed 5 of 10 passes for 102 yards at halftime.

With strong runs, King had 44 yards rushing and Smith 73 yards passing at halftime.

Despite the large lead, the Lynx stayed focused.

“These seniors, eight of them started on our state championship team when they were sophomores. They have played a lot of football. As a coaching staff we preach to these guys it doesn’t matter what the score is whether we are losing by 34 or winning by 34 it’s all about execution, doing things the guys are coached to do,” said Locastro.

Isaac Smith said, “Things are not going to go your way all the time. It’s a sign of weakness if you lower your head and quit. Our coaches train us to stay humble and pride is a big part of it whenever you put on that Gryphon jersey. We play for our family, people around us. We are a big family.”

A 31-yard kickoff return by Denton put the Lynx on the Gryphons’ 46-yard line as the third quarter started. A 25-yard pass to Johnson led to Gray’s 14-yard touchdown run and Weiss made it 41-0.

The Lynx scored again when Forest ran 9 yards. He had thrown a 19-yard pass to Partee earlier and then Forest ran 20 yards to the 9. Weiss made it 48-0.

The Gryphons’ first touchdown came with 10:08 left in the third on Smith’s touchdown pass to Seward. Smith threw a 24-yard pass to Wes Smith before the touchdown. Haddad kicked it to 48-7.

A 61-yard kickoff return by Denton got to the Gryphons 22. King then sacked Forest for a nine-yard loss. Craig Cunningham ran 31-yards for a 54-7 lead with 4:58 left in the game. Weiss made it 55-7.

Spencer Smith then threw the 80-yard TD to Issac Smith with 1:41 left. Haddad’s PAT made it 55-14.

Spencer Smith said that it was a simple post route.

“I saw that Isaac had leverage on him. I threw it up,” he said. “Isaac does really well going to get it even when I throw a bad ball.”

“How I played tonight was seeing what the defensive back gave me coverage-wise and see how I can manipulate them with my route running. That is how I play my game,” said Isaac Smith, who has played four complete games after an injury against Arlington the second game.

Locastro said that Forest “played really well. We had two dropped balls for touchdowns. Our receivers have to do a better job of capitalizing opportunities.”

Forest (6-5, 223) had 52 yards rushing. This season he has completed 33 of 53 passes for 649 yards and 8 touchdowns and rushed for 144 yards on 23 carries.

“I made sure I ran the ball hard because I knew they were going to key on Eric and to open the defense up, I was going to have to make a couple of plays with my feet, whether that’s gaining yards on runs or extending the play in the pocket by moving around,” said Forest, who is being recruited by Vanderbilt, Memphis, Austin Peay, Texas A&M, Prairie View A&M, Murray State.

Gray is playing for more than football.

“God has blessed me with a talent and I can use a platform to help others. I play for the Lord, giving it all to God because God gave it to me. I didn’t get it on my own. He blessed me with it,” said Gray, the Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year in 2017.

Gray and Weiss have teamed for Touchdowns Against Cancer. Each touchdown and PAT scored are raising funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to fight child cancer. Lausanne leads the nation with more than $16,000 raised. A California high school is second with $2,000.

“They have turned football into a great cause,” said Locastro.

Gray said, “That is more than winning Mr. Football. That is a bigger accomplishment, not just for me, that is for the kids that aren’t as fortunate as me giving them hope. That is all that matters.”

With his father telling Gray that he needed to start a charity, he and Weiss began talking the St. Jude opportunity.

“I said that is a great way to get involved and help others and use football as a bigger platform,” said Gray.

Gray has a goal of winning Mr. Football.

“The first one was very meaningful. I remember everybody was saying I wasn’t going to get it because I was up against Chase Hayden (a former St. George’s running back now at Arkansas). The second one meant a lot because that is the way to get a third one and no one has ever won three in a row. That is big time for me.”

On Saturday, St. George’s players participated in the St. Jude Walk/Run to End Childhood Cancer.

“It’s more than football. One of our players Cameron Head lost his sister (to cancer),” said Lott. “We are very supportive of him and his family. I can’t imagine how tough that is. We definitely will be out to support him with the school.”

Carson Elizabeth Head died on June 26, 2015, of osteosarcoma. She was 9.

“It is still fairly new,” said Lott. “Cameron is one of our captains. He is out for the season with a back injury. He is at practice every day and at every game with his strong character and strong leadership, a very positive kid.”

Faith “is a big part of what we do. It’s about playing for who gave you the ability to play this game. We give thanks for that every day,” said Spencer Smith, adding “absolutely 100 percent” faith is important to him.

Isaac Smith said, “Faith certainly plays a big role in my family and my every day life. Every day in the morning when my mom takes me to school we pray. I go to church every time the door is open.”

St. George’s finished with 266 yards total offense (214 passing, 52 rushing), Lausanne 419 (262 rushing, 157 passing).

King finished with 45 yards rushing on 15 carries.

“He did really well. He practiced well all week,” said Lott. “He battled an ankle injury. He fought through it. It’s his senior year.”

Gryphon offensive/defensive lineman William Irby said, “We ran the ball and got pretty good yards. We were making good plays when we kept Eric in the box. As soon as he got outside it wasn’t good. We have to pursue the ball and extend our blocks and make plays we need to make.”

Bray, who had a 10-yard catch, said the Gryphons have to improve tackling.

“We were in position to get the job done. We have to learn from our mistakes to build on for next week,” said Bray, who has committed to Mercer University.

“I think I will have a shot to play pretty early in my career there. I love their coaches. They are always really genuine. From the beginning they took me in.”

Gray said that St. George’s did a “great job of running to the football. They did a great job of blitzing. They disguise their blitzes.”

Gray said Lausanne linebacker Anthony McGhee “grinded it out” despite getting hurt. “Our linemen did a great tonight even though it was soggy.”

From the Lynx 4-3 defense, linebacker Yusef Thomas led with 7 tackles (5 assists) and Johnson 5. Thomas, Greenlee, who is being recruited by Western Illinois and Austin Peay, and McGhee each had a sack. Walton is being recruited by 12 FCS colleges.

From the Gryphons’ 4-2-5 defense, Wesley Goodwin and Tyler Beasley had 4 each, Thomas Lambert 5, Jake Hurley 3, Pryor 3 and a sack, Cameron Turner 3.

Hurley is the season’s leading tackler.

The Gryphons “have shocked a bunch of people” said Spencer Smith with big wins over ECS, Harding and Northpoint. “We have a shot to get pretty far in the playoffs.”

Isaac Smith said, “I want to give my seniors one last ride that they will remember the rest of their lives. I want to dedicate this season to them because our team is mostly seniors. I love them to death. My goal is to give them a glory run on the way out as well as fulfill my goals.”

Locastro said, “Our goal is to get back to Cookeville and play for another state championship.”

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