As the clock wound down and Lafayette secured a 25-12 win over Moore to end the Generals’ 19-game losing streak Friday night at Ishmael Stadium, a swell of emotion flooded coach Jon Lawson, as did every water jug and bottle within his team’s reach.
“It’s an unbelievable moment,” Lawson said, gathering himself after a number of hugs and congratulations amid tears of joy. “This team and this community has gone through so many struggles in the last four or five years, and I know it’s only one win, but it is a huge win for this program. It’s a huge opportunity for this team and this program to move forward.”
Lafayette’s boisterous student section could barely contain itself as it waited for the all-clear from school officials to rush the field and join the team in the celebration.
“It means everything,” Lafayette quarterback DJ Walker said. “We’ve been working for this all season long. I feel like we hit a turning point. We’re a whole different team now. We’re rebranded.”
Lafayette had not won a game since Oct. 10, 2021, against Henry Clay. It had not won at home since defeating Tates Creek on Oct. 16, 2020.
A program that produced back-to-back Class 6A state runners-up in 2015 and 2016 saw a steep decline from that peak when the likes of the Cleveland Browns’ Jedrick Wills and the New Orleans Saints’ Landon Young walked the school’s halls.
The Generals have won no more than three games in a season since 2017 and went 0-11 last year under Lawson, who, despite the struggles, had the interim tag removed from his job title.
“We needed to taste that sense of victory to learn and understand how important it was to work that hard and have some success on the end of it,” Lawson said.
But Friday’s win over Class 5A’s Moore out of Louisville was not a sure thing. The Mustangs were 3-1 going into the matchup and in the hometown Courier Journal’s weekly picks column, the Generals were forecast to lose by all four panelists by an average score of 30-14.
The Generals trailed 12-10 at halftime. Moore quarterback Javis Wallace scored on a 14-yard run in the first quarter and threw a 9-yard TD pass to Dashawn Hall just before halftime.
Then Lafayette committed fumbles on each of its first three possessions of the second half. Each time, the Lafayette defense held, but a potential go-ahead 25-yard field goal at the end of the third quarter was blocked as the Generals’ frustrations continued.
“The difference today was just really their mentality,” Lawson said. “They actually believed they could win, and even though they got punched in the mouth a couple of times and had a few mistakes where we didn’t do what we were supposed to, they kept believing.”
Finally, Walker capped a six play, 59-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown run to help give Lafayette an 18-12 lead with 4:55 left in the game. Walker also had a 49-yard TD pass to Nemo Barber in the second quarter to go along with a 22-yard field goal by Jackson Grantz.
“We all knew we had this all night. We just needed another shot,” Walker said.
Moments after Walker’s rushing TD, Lafayette’s defense flushed Moore’s Wallace out of the pocket, producing an errant pass intercepted by Nasir Andrews at the 25-yard line. With the help of some teammates, Andrews powered into the end zone on the return to help set the final margin and virtually seal the victory with 2:56 left.
Carrying a 19-game losing streak has not been easy for the Generals, acknowledged running back/linebacker Dez Hanley.
“It’s been hard. But it feels good that we’ve broken it,” Hanley said. “Coach Lawson, he’s been on us ever since the beginning talking about (being) player-led, and I feel like tonight all of us led as one. That’s what he’s been preaching all season long, and it finally happened tonight.”