Handling defeat: No. 1 Lassiter Trojans

Lassiter coach Jep Irwin said his team's loss in the first round to Brookwood was one of the toughest losses of his career.

Lassiter coach Jep Irwin said his team's loss in the first round to Brookwood was one of the toughest losses of his career.

By David Purdum / For the AJC

Lassiter coach Jep Irwin received an interview request Monday morning.

It was the first day of Thanksgiving break and just two days after his top-ranked Trojans had their season end suddenly and in heart-breaking fashion.

Irwin didn’t have to respond to the request. Other coaches wouldn’t have. Southern Cal coach Lane Kiffin makes $2.4 million, but chose not to face the media after his team lost to rival UCLA on Saturday.

Irwin called roughly an hour after receiving the interview request. He was open and willing to talk about one of the toughest losses of his career.

“If you’re going to do the interviews when you win, you need to do them when you lose, too,” Irwin said.

Lassiter finished the regular season 10-0 and became the No. 1-ranked team in the state heading into a first-round home playoff game against Brookwood. It was the first time Lassister ever had been ranked No. 1, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association. Irwin warned his players that a team with the pedigree of Brookwood would not be intimidated by playing the No. 1 team in the state.

The Trojans owned the momentum from the beginning, converting on a pair of fake punts on their first two possessions. They led 21-3 at the half and by 15 with seven minutes left in the game.

But Brookwood rallied with two late touchdowns, tying the game with eight seconds to play. The Broncos finished off the dramatic comeback with an interception that produced the winning field goal in overtime.

“Those two late touchdowns in the fourth quarter were kind of shocking to our kids,” said Irwin. “We had been a second-half team and really dominated fourth quarters all year. You really have to hand it to Brookwood.”

After post-game handshakes, Irwin led his team into the locker room. It was several minutes before the coaches addressed the players.

“Everybody is raw emotionally, so as coaches, you want to give them a little bit of privacy and let them be with their teammates,” Irwin said. “There’s not anything you can say to make them feel better at that moment. Everybody feels bad. I feel bad. I wish there was something more I could have done to get those guys a win.”

In an emotional locker room full of hugs, Irwin reminded his team of the great season they had experienced together and how much they accomplished. The senior class was among the winningest in school history, said Irwin. Two of the 24 seniors stood up and addressed the team. Irwin hugged every senior.

After the emotions tempered slightly, Irwin made sure to talk about things other than winning and losing.

“If you have a program that’s just based on winning and losing, that’s going to be a lot harder sell,” Irwin said. “But, hopefully, kids buy into what you’re trying to teach them, about life lessons and about how to developing themselves through football. If they do, then you can say, ‘Look, this is part of it.’”

23 comments Add your comment

WarEagle

November 20th, 2012
11:05 am

“If you have a program that’s just based on winning and losing, that’s going to be a lot harder sell,” — that is the kind of high school coach I’d want my son to play for. High school football is about learning life lessons, and you don’t always win at everything in life. Need to learn to work hard and take pride in what you do. Great job, Coach.

only a matter of time

November 20th, 2012
11:29 am

that’s too bad for the Trojans. as a fan of Cobb County football I was hoping to be able to see this team against a region 1 squad. I don’t know if Willie Police is going to play football or not any more but he was exciting to see out there. good luck to all the seniors who put in their time for that program and good luck to you all in life.

Fred

November 20th, 2012
11:36 am

Classy coach and sounds like a classy program! Hard for kids (and adults!) to see that sometimes, you just lose. It doesn’t mean they are failures at all nor does it invalidate their outstanding season. Good luck in the future!

Slinger

November 20th, 2012
11:49 am

Always remember, 31 playoff teams lose, 1 wins.

Jerry C

November 20th, 2012
7:25 pm

This is a great story of how to approach High School sports. Jep Irwin is a class act.
Thank goodness the LTDC recommended him over all other candidates..

slim065

November 20th, 2012
7:36 pm

This makes me feel MUCH more hopeful going forward for the Trojans. They are still a young program in terms of handling success. But just seeing the comments by the coach makes it seem like the program is truly being built the right way and that the upcoming kids have been taught the right way and the wins and )hopefully) championships will come.

Police has some offers from smaller D1 schools (Middle Ten St, Utah St, and a few others as well as Ga Southern in 1AA, etc). I think he will get looked at by some higher profile programs though. He seems like a great kid and could be one of those under the radar recruits at a school that really breaks out by just playing football more. (I think he has only been playing a few years since he was originally a lacrosse player).

Richie

November 20th, 2012
7:51 pm

Hey Slim, why do you speak as an official of Lassiter? Shut up when you don’t know what you are talking about. You are a jock sniffing idiot sitting behind a computer as anonymous as could be. Your information is incorrect.

DawgFan

November 20th, 2012
8:40 pm

I’m just ready for the AJC / Lassiter lovefest to end. Did Todd Holcomb go to Lassiter? Can’t believe Lassiter loses and we see a headline article on how they are handling losing. I, for one, would love to see a headline article on ANY of the schools who are still in the frickin’ tournament who have been overlooked all year long.

And guess what? There are some SPECTACULAR QBs playing this week whose names aren’t Printz, Dobbs, and Ramsey. Haynes, Jennings, Erderly, Bennifield to mention a few who are almost never mentioned by the AJC. And they are still here. Sorry to spoil your party, AJC.

And let’s get this out of the way upfront – if you don’t win a single playoff game, you don’t make the top 10 at the end of the season. Period. Don’t even think about putting Lassiter or Walton up there or you will have lost all credibility.

David Purdum

November 20th, 2012
9:24 pm

@DawgFan: For the record, I wrote this article, not Todd. It is the first time I’ve written about Lassiter all season. I thought it was an interesting side to the story of the No. 1 team in the state–a program that had never been No. 1 before–dealing with a tough loss. I’m sorry you disagree.

GwinnettDad

November 20th, 2012
9:28 pm

Gives me a reason to wish the best for Lassiter in the future, except when, of course, they’re playing a Gwinnett team of which I’m a fan. :-) A class act displayed here, for sure.

Mr Earl

November 20th, 2012
10:05 pm

Excellent story about a quality program lead by a Coach who does things the right way. Best of luck to Coach Irwin and the Lassiter Trojans. Great season!

Just a fan

November 20th, 2012
10:41 pm

Pretty simple. Coaching is so much better in Gwinnett Co vs Cobb. Broncos made the adjustments, Trojans did not. Bottom line though is you win lots of games running the spread offense, but you can’t consistently close out these big games. Just look at the recent state champs. I was at this game and a Trojan fan told me that he wanted them to win so bad just so his brother in law would shut up saying a spread team won’t win…. I just listen and smiled.

slim065

November 20th, 2012
11:23 pm

@Richie:

What are you talking about? The info on Police? That is my understanding from what I have read elsewhere and been told. If that is incorrect then I was given some bad info and am sorry. Why the need to seem all aggravated?

I am a huge supporter of Lassiter and always will be. It is nice to see my Alma-mater have success at a sport no one ever thought they would. And I will point out successes as well as failures. I have done that all season as well as in the past, here and elsewhere.

As the writer pointed out, most of the time coaches are more than happy to talk after winning, not after losing. Coach Irwin didn’t back away and he did what the majority of coaches would never do, talk after a tough loss. Just look at Lane Kiffin…

And lastly, a spread team will win in this state sooner than later. The biggest thing the spread teams have to work on is building stronger defenses IMO and building strong foundations. That is the difference between Cobb, S. Ga, Gwinnett, etc. Cobb teams are getting there and have closed the gap significantly but still have a little ways to go. The East Cobb schools are building it as are McEachern and Hillgrove. Just a matter of time until Cobb gets it. (Just hope the rest of the state can handle it) :)

FCFB

November 21st, 2012
7:07 am

Lassiter no doubt is a top notch program and deserves all the attention they have received. I find it rather ironic that they lost this year in the first round similar to the way they won last year in the first round…AHS was #1 seed LASS was #4 seed, Lass beat them in OT with a great special teams play to block an extra point…This year Lass was #1 seed and Brook #4 seed and again it was OT and special teams with a field goal…I guess, what goes around, comes around.

BullDawgRick

November 21st, 2012
8:49 am

Lassiter is Cobb County in a nutshell…

SOS for Cobb football..

OMacG

November 21st, 2012
9:31 am

slim065- I’ve heard the exact same info about Police but I guess the two I heard it from are also jock-sniffing idiots. LMAO

I gotta somewhat disagree about a spread team winning state, though…it will be “later” if it ever does happen. Seems to me that spread teams put all of their best athletes on the O side of the ball and pay the price on the D side. The teams who win it all in Georgia play bad-arse defense and control the clock on offense…good spread teams score quickly and that results in their defense being out there a heap too long, even if they do have some good talent on that side of the ball.

I thought Lassiter had the defense this year to compliment that high-powered offense and that they’d easily get back to the semifinals. Not sure what happened but from watching the score, it did indeed sound like y’all called the dogs off WAY too early. These good Gwinnett programs aren’t phased a lick by a 3 TD deficit…they are mentally strong from years of coming back to win games like Brookwood did last week. That mental toughness is the reason they perform better than Cobb County schools in the sport of football, IMO.

Hubert Green

November 21st, 2012
11:08 am

Without a certain dad going out and bringing in the skill players, Lassiter will probably struggle. Everybody loves the good ole boy who is a good loser. I’d rather be state champion. Lame Kiffin is awful. He’s had three opportunities to be head coach and gotten nothing done. They were pre-season #1 this year.

slim065

November 21st, 2012
12:06 pm

OMacG: Agreed on us calling off the dogs too early…again. Been saying it all year that it would bite them if they did it in the playoffs. Especially when we were having to face region 8 in Rd 1.

I almost wonder if some of the spread teams should platy some guys both ways? Not every down, but in big moments or on a key down just put the best guys out there? I don’t think Lassiter plays anyone 2 ways so… I thought Lassiter had the right mix this year to go far, but there was that “something” missing.

All schools get transfers and parents talk. Happens at every school for various sports. I thoguht people were done talking about the trasnfers?

Falconguy45

November 21st, 2012
12:38 pm

As far as the subject of “transfers”, I know it’s almost impossible to get permissive transfers these days. It is also very hard to get a transfer approved even if one of the parents teach in the county. You look at some of the power house programs in Gwinnett. Most of these schools are minutes from each other. What is the purpose of transferring in the first place?

slim065

November 21st, 2012
1:46 pm

Most schools (at least Gwinnett/Cobb/N Fulton) are very close to each other so all a family has to do in some cases is move across a road and they can be in a different district. I wish GA would go to a more open transfer system that you can go to any school in that county if there is space (obviously families in a given boundary zone are given first choice). Seems like it would cut down on a lot of headaches and accusations (whether they are true, half true, or outright lies).

Falconguy45

November 21st, 2012
2:36 pm

Slim….. Easier said than done in this age with the housing crisis we have in Metro Atl. Most families cannot afford to move just to get into another district. I can tell you this, which you may already know, there are subdivisions across the street from Grayson High School that are zoned to the new Archer High School. The kids could literally walk to Grayson, but are being bused 20 minutes to Archer. I know of several parents that have done everything possible to have their kids go to Grayson, but they have been denied. There are some very talented athletes that live in this neighborhood. Many schools in Cobb and Gwinnett have been hit hard with redistricting. Eventhough we have more kids than South Georgia, the big schools such as Camden, Colquitt, Tift, etc. have not had to deal with this issue.

slim065

November 21st, 2012
3:13 pm

Oh definitely. Didn’t mean to imply it is simple, but if the family has the means to do that it isn’t hard to do in many counties, especially the 3 I named. And that gives some people the impression of recruiting when in fact it could have been as “simple” as seeing a house for rent across the road and being districted for a school that the family felt could benefit their child more (whehter that be acadmeics/fine arts/athletics/etc) than where they lived currently. And some will own/rent 2 houses at once for 1-4 years to send their child to a school.

When Kell opened in 2002 taking students from Lassiter/Sprayberry and I believe a timy slice of N. Cobb, there were people who were much closer to one of the other schools than kell but were re-districted there.

East Cobb Dad

November 22nd, 2012
5:26 am

Coach Irwin is a stand up guy building a solid program. Congratulations to Brookwood. They played especially well in the second half…balls that were dropped in the first half were caught, open receivers were found, etc.,. Last Thanksgiving at the MLK game we had a goal line stand with 8 minutes left and a field goal lead. Running the same offense/plays as we did last Friday, Lassiter ran the clock out after starting at our own goal line. It was an epic ball possession drive. This year we just weren;t able to make that key catch, break a tackle, to keep the ball and the clock running. Congratulations to Coach Irwin on a terrific year, winning the Region, and for the fine work he’s done with the kids and the program.