A staple in Lakeside's yearly football schedule, Malvern always proves an interesting game for the Rams.
This year was no different as the Class 4A-7 school punched above its weight and defeated 5A-South Lakeside 35-34.
Despite having home field advantage, the first half of the game was controlled by Malvern with some star players making a crucial difference.
Running back Jalen Dupree, for example, scored the first touchdown of the game and his name was repeated over the loud speaker for the rest of the evening.
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Wearing the No. 2 jersey for the Leopards, Dupree made big moves on both defense and offense. Maintaining a 14-point lead for the majority of the game, Malvern's momentum slowed during the second half as the team barely secured the win.
"We told our kids at halftime Lakeside was going to come back," Malvern head coach J.D. Plumlee said. "They were at home and they were only down two scores, and today in high school football, a four-score lead's nothing."
The Leopard team was looking hot until a Malvern pass was intercepted by junior Lakeside linebacker Grady Ohman in the beginning of the second quarter. Malvern began making simple mistakes, jeopardizing its 14-0 lead.
Malvern received the first five flags of the game in quick succession, allowing Lakeside to get in scoring position. Senior wide receiver Kyler Wolf, No. 10, worked together with Ohman to move the chains up the field on a series of plays before Wolf rushed in a 15-yard touchdown.
The Leopards continued to ebb and flow throughout the remainder of the half, but never allowed the Rams to close the gap. Dupree and senior wide receiver Dyelon Caradine racked up two more touchdowns for the Leopards while Wolf scored once more for the Rams for a halftime score of 28-14 Malvern.
In the second half, the Rams looked to Wolf and Ohman to shift the balance. But after a big hit by three Leopards, Ohman began to crack, taking several breathers on the sideline. Still, the Rams rallied for a big comeback in the second half.
Starting as a battle of the defenses, the Rams were able to wear down Malvern over the third quarter and capitalized in the final period. With about seven minutes left in the game, Rams quarterback Jacob Hermosillo lobbed a 60-yard pass to Ryan Ballard for a touchdown for a 28-21 tally.
While keeping the Leopards out of the end zone, the Rams scored again to tie up the game at 28-28 on a quarterback keeper by Hermosillo, juking a host of Leopards from the 28-yard line.
Then Dupree got serious. The latest in a series of prolific players from Malvern in recent years, he follows in the footsteps of Demias Jimerson and Cedric Simmons as talents that carry the team.
"We faced some adversity for the first time offensively and it was good for us," Plumlee said. "But man, I can't say enough about Jalen Dupree. We tied it up, we got three-and-a-half minutes left, I said 'Dude, it's on your shoulders,' and he just marched down the field and punched it in. That's what he's been doing for us for three years."
All tied up with under four minutes, the Rams kicked a squib, downed at the Leopards' 33. Dupree gave it his all, rushed down the field and landed within the Rams' 20-yard line. He punched in another touchdown with 2:05 remaining from the 19-yard line, putting the Leopards back in the lead, 35-28.
But the Rams weren't through. The fans all stood and the crowd cheered louder and louder as Lakeside made its last offensive drive.
A big pass put the Rams on the 18-yard line. A fumble recovered by Lakeside led to a second down-and-8 when Hermosillo passed to Ballard for another six points. Exactly one minute remained in the game with Malvern still ahead 35-34. Lakeside called a timeout then geared up for a two-point conversion.
They were going for the win instead of trying for overtime.
This game was Malvern's to lose.
Hermosillo snapped the ball and looked for an open receiver. He found junior Ben Vincent on the left side and sent him a floater. It landed right on the ground as he reached for it, an incomplete pass.
"We fell short at the end," Lakeside head coach Garren Rockwell said. "We went for a two-point play. I thought he caught it, but the referee says he didn't catch it. We probably could have thrown a better ball. Sometimes you get those calls, sometimes you don't."
The team, facing a bye-week, sets its sights on its first conference game of the year, Camden Fairview. He said it all falls on him and that the team will be ready and better prepared for week one.
"I won't let y'all down like that ever again," he said to his team in a huddle before prayer.
Plumlee, who has ties to Lakeside, said the rivalry is special and that he looks forward to seeing what the Rams do this season. He says for the rest of the year, he will be a Rams fan and hopes they will be Leopards fans.
"That quarterback," said Plumlee. "He's one of the best. He's making a name for himself and he's going to be fun to watch. I'm just glad we're not going to have to play him anymore."
He said Lakeside presented his team with a healthy challenge to better prepare them going into conference play.
Plumlee said there were many players that made the win possible on offense and defense, and that Lakeside made for a "great high school environment" and a "great nonconference football game."
"It was a team effort," Dupree said. "That was a very hard-fought game and I'm just thankful for everybody that put in work. That last drive, three minutes of offense, we took care of business and we did what we were supposed to do."