Track meet ends in Hattiesburg victoryBy CAMAL PETRO,
PETAL – Hattiesburg junior Tadrian Leflore picked the right time to have the best game of varsity career. In fact, it was his first start in the Hattiesburg secondary. Leflore recorded an interception on Petal’s opening drive of the game, then helped seal the victory with another pick midway through the fourth quarter as the Panthers were driving down the field.
With Leflore’s help, Hattiesburg held on for the 43-37 win over Petal.
“Tadrian showed great signs last week at our jamboree and all summer at 7-on-7, so we’re expecting big things out of him, and we got them tonight,” Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance said. “He’ll continue to get better, so the sky is the limit for Tadrian Leflore.”
After the first interception, the Tigers moved the ball 53 yards on six plays to take the early 7-0 lead. Junior quarterback Jarod Conner finished the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run.
After the two teams traded punts, Hattiesburg, again, put together a scoring drive. Junior Drexlan Allen helped move the ball down the field with runs of 6, 9, 9 and 2 yards, then he capped off the possession with a 1-yard score to give the Tigers a quick 14-0 lead.
Petal, however, didn’t stay down for long. Senior quarterback Jordan Wilson helped lead his team down the field, then sophomore running back Micah McGowan finished the drive with a 5-yard touchdown. That cut the Tigers’ lead to 14-7.
On the ensuing kickoff, Hattiesburg’s D’andre Humbles fumbled, and it was recovered by Petal. One play later, Wilson found Nataurean “Phat” Watts for a 16-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 14-13 after a blocked extra point.
Then, the teams went back and forth the rest of the half. Hattiesburg senior running back Fabian Franklin punched it from the 6-yard line, Petal’s McGowan scored from 26 yards out and Conner connected with Darius Ruffin from the 4-yard line to bring the score to 28-23 at the half.
On the final touchdown, Hattiesburg ran the same play two times in a row. After the first pass to Ruffin was overthrown, the Tigers called a timeout and ran the same play to perfection.
In the second half after the two traded punts, Hattiesburg took the ball 63 yards on six plays to push the lead to 35-23. Humbles found pay dirt on a wide receiver screenplay from the 10-yard line.
Petal answered on its next possession, though, by moving the ball 53 yards on three plays. Wilson capped it off with a specular throw to Natorian “Deuce” Watts for a 43-yard score to make it 35-30.
After Hattiesburg went three-and-out, Petal had a chance to regain the lead, but Raykell Ducksworth stepped in front of a Wilson pass and he took it 85-plus yards for the score to give the Tigers a 43-30 lead late in the third quarter.
“Raykell is one of those guys when he has the ball, him and Dennis (Payton) were on the 4x100-meter relay team that won state,” Vance said. “We knew they weren’t going to catch him.”
The Panthers answered on their next drive with a six-play, 61-yard drive, finished off by McGowan’s third touchdown of the night. He rushed it from 16 yard to make it a 43-37 game.
McGowan finished the night with 13 carries for 93 yards and the three scores, and the sophomore might have asserted himself in the No. 1 running back role for the Panthers.
“I think he definitely did,” Boyles said. “Being a tenth grader, you just never know. The biggest thing was, he was probably the best back with the ball in his hands, but when the ball wasn’t in his hands, being a tenth grader, he wasn’t sure about pass blocking or getting out on the routes.”
Neither team scored the final quarter, but Petal had a chance midway through. Wilson floated a pass near the goal line, but Leflore came down with it for his second interception of the night.
Hattiesburg would punt the ball back to Petal with 3:40 left on the clock, but the Panthers found themselves in a fourth-and-11 situation at their 23-yard line with two-plus minutes left. Boyles opted to punt with two timeouts, and his team wouldn’t see the ball again.
“We knew we were deep in our territory and it was fourth-and-long,” Boyles said. “We just didn’t like the odds of us getting it. We actually had (Hattiesburg’s offense) stopped on third down to make them punt it, but Conner did what great players do and got away from us.”
Hattiesburg will travel to Laurel next week for the Battle of the Little Brown jug on Saturday at 7 p.m., and Petal will host Gulfport Friday for a 7 p.m. kickoff.