Panthers named to
• First team: QB Julian Stokes, RB Shadrach Thornton and WR Sinjin Mullins
• Second team: OL Joseph Caldwell-Jones, Punter Eddie Chipple•Defense first team: DL Tramal Morris, LB Marcus Jefferson and DB Artavious Frost
• Second team: DL Jevon Jones, DL Aaron Bennett and LB Thomas Penny • Honorable mention: DL Demetrick Mothershed and LB Tucory Rhodes
• Honorable mention: DL Demetrick Mothershed and LB Tucory Rhodes
Three years ago, the Panthers went to LaGrange and lost 26-0 during the first round of playoffs. On Saturday the Liberty County team returned to Callaway Stadium and defeated the Grangers 16-13.
The overtime win advanced the Panthers to the second round of the state playoffs for the first time in the school’s football program.
"I’m especially proud for my seniors, Panther coach Kirk Warner said after the win. "Some of my seniors were here three years ago and it was their first playoff game. I told them tonight don’t let this be your last playoff game here. They took it to heart and fought."
The Grangers, ranked No. 2 in 2-AAA, opened the game with a kick return, setting up offense on the Panthers’ 38-yard line. They were met by a tough Panther defense, but were able to set up their kicker, Joseph Mansour, who knocked in a 52-yard field goal.
The Panther offense was held to punts only until the last minutes of the first quarter and opening seconds of the second.
LaGrange was pinned at their own 6-yard line after an Eddie Chipple punt. They drew a flag, pushing them back to the 1. Facing a fourth down, the Grangers were forced to punt from the end zone and their kicker shanked the ball.
The Panthers took over at the Grangers’ 20. Panther quarterback Julian Stokes connected with Thomas Penny for an 11-yard touchdown pass to open the second quarter up 7-3.
LaGrange scored again with a 67-yard, reverse flea flicker touchdown pass to retake the lead.The Panthers set up another drive and Stokes completed a 42-yard pass to Sinjin Mullins for a first down at the 16-yard line. But Stokes was intercepted in the end zone. And the Grangers got the ball out to the 20.
After a Granger three-and-out, the Panthers took over and ran the ball to the Grangers 25 yard line. This set up a Chipple field goal attempt on fourth down. He nailed a 38-yard kick, but was hit by a Granger. Warner decided to exchange the points for a new set of downs to try for a touchdown.
The Panthers made it to the 6-yard line, but were called for a delay of game. Stokes brought the ball into the 2-yard line on fourth down and failed to convert or score, closing the half with the Grangers leading 10-7.
"I know better than to take points off the scoreboard," Warner said afterward. "But I thought we had the momentum… It’s a game of inches, if we would have made the first down we get one more shot to push that thing in. But it worked out for the best at the end. I’m just ecstatic."
The Panthers did tie the game on a Chipple field goal in the third quarter. And the teams battled back and forth, but ended regulation time tied at 10.
Each team got to start at the other teams’ 20 yard line. LaGrange had the first shot and on third and long they tossed a pass into the end zone, but the receiver let it slip through his fingers. Facing a fourth down they chipped in a field goal to go up 13-10 and hoped their defense would hold.
The Panthers took over and on third and long Shadrach Thornton ran behind his offensive linemen and made it to the 2-yard line and a first down. On the next play Stokes ran to the corner of the end zone, breaking two tackles for the victory.
The Panther offense ran for 202 yards and passed for 49. Stokes had 14 carries for 66 yards while Thornton carried the ball 35 times for 136 yards.
Defensively Jevon Jones and Cody French recovered Granger fumbles and Byron Johnson returned an interception for 13 yards. Penny led the tackles with 8. Trammal Morris had 7, Marcus Jefferson and Charles Hall had 6 each and Tucory Rhodes had 5.
The Panthers also varied their offensive look with Thornton lining up as quarterback and Stokes lining up wide.
"I’m telling you fellows this is a blessed team," Warner said during the team’s victory huddle at the end zone. "I told you back in June this team was destined for something special. We are going to celebrate tonight but that’s it guys. We have another game to play. We did it and it’s a sign of a mature team."
"That is how you go when you have no more fuel in the tank," Thornton said, praising his teammate and his linemen.
"That steam coming off your head is a sign of just how hard you worked," lineman Jevon Jones said.
The Panthers head to Jackson on Friday to meet the undefeated Red Devils at 7:30 p.m.