LUMBERTON – A season ago, as Lumberton walked into the locker room after losing its state championship game, the message for the next season was simple – to be better.
The Panthers have lived by that mentality, and it was no different as Lumberton won its fifth straight region title in a 56-0 win over Resurrection Catholic.
“We went into the locker room after the state game, and we (have said) to get better,” Lumberton quarterback Rodney Parker said. “We will do what we didn’t do right in the state game and do better. We have been doing that ever since.”
Parker plays multiple positions for Lumberton (7-1, 7-0), from quarterback, safety and punt returner. In the team’s win over the Eagles, Parker was responsible for three touchdowns, two of which helped the Panthers seize control of the game in the first half.
“He is probably the most fun guy on the team, and he definitely gets our mojo going on Friday night and in practice,” Lumberton coach Zach Jones said. “He does a real good job for us. I’m definitely glad Rodney parker is a Lumberton Panther.
“He stays on his feet and can allude a tackle, and then all of a sudden he throws the ball 65 yards down the field because somebody got behind somebody. He can do it all. I thought he made some good reads tonight. He has really grown into being the quarterback, and he is our leader on defense as well.”
Lumberton got off to a slow start after its first three offensive plays went for negative yardage. However, on the following drive, Resurrection (5-3, 4-2) fumbled on its punt at its own 11 yard line in which running back Robert Henry scored to give the Panthers an 8-0 lead in the first quarter
After Lumberton came up short for the rest of the first quarter, Parker helped the Panthers find consistency with his first touchdown of the night. After being sacked and facing third and 14, Parker was forced to scramble but connected with Henry for a 22-yard touchdown.
On the following kickoff, Resurrection fumbled again, and on the first play of the ensuing drive, Parker again scrambled and threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Trevon Jessie to extend Lumberton’s lead 22-0.
“I’ve played quarterback since peewee,” Parker said. “It’s just finding the open man. That’s all you do is just make a play. You keep your head straight, looking for the open man.
“It’s like I’m running from a dog. That’s how I look at it.”
Lumberton never looked back as the Panthers controlled both sides of the ball in the second half. Lumberton scored 34 points and racked up 243 total yards of offense in the second half.
Defensively, Lumberton dominated Resurrection as the Panthers held the Eagles to a total of negative 16 yards of total offense and forced four turnovers. In addition, Resurrection was only able to convert two first downs the entire night.
“Our defense is the best it has been since we have been here,” Jones said. “I know we are the most physical on defense since we have been here. We set the tone early with that. Offensively we are getting there, but we are not where we want to be at.”
According to Parker, the most significant difference with Lumberton’s current defense compared to past years is the team’s ability to have different players able to play multiple positions.
“Everybody can play a different position,” Parker said. “You’re not set at just one position. We have that mentality of wanting to win. We have fallen short for so many years. Everybody now has the mentality that we are going to win.”
Henry finished the game with three total touchdowns and 170 rushing yards. Parker finished 5-of-10 and passed for 78 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 72 yards and a touchdown.
Lumberton’s win not only clinches the region but secures home-field advantage in the playoffs.
“I’m really happy for our kids,” Jones said. “A lot of hard work has gone into it. We are proud of it. This is 34 straight region wins, and it's something we take pride in. We go to work every day, and we represent that. This sets us up for home-field advantage through the playoffs.”