The Lumberton Panthers are heading to the South State Championship after defeating Leflore County in a nail biter Friday night.
In a game that see-sawed back and forth with five lead changes, Lumberton’s defense again stood strong late in the game to give the Panthers the 29-28 win in dramatic fashion.
The Panther defense started out strong, holding the Tigers to negative 11 yards on their first possession and forcing Leflore County to punt the ball.
On the second play of the drive, Robert Henry connected with K’nylan Willis on a 54- yard touchdown pass giving the Panthers the early lead with 8:24 remaining in the first quarter.
Both defenses stopped one another, which kept the score at 7-0 for the remainder of the first quarter.
After a Lumberton fumble, Leflore stepped up its passing attack with three straight completions of 9, 21 and eventually a 24-yard strike to No. 6 for the Tigers. After the successful two-point conversion, the Panthers found themselves trailing 8-7 early in the second quarter with 10:18 remaining in the half.
Lumberton answered back when Robert Henry broke a 14-yard run to find the end zone, giving the Panthers back the lead 14-8 with 4:56 remaining in the second.
Leflore had an answer of its own by returning the kickoff, taking it back 77 yards for the score. After a successful two-point conversion, Leflore found themselves up 16-14 with 4:56 remaining in the half.
Even though Lumberton outgained Leflore 181 to 62 total yards the first two quarters, the Panthers found themselves down by two heading into the half.
It was Leflore who struck first in the second half when they scored once again on a pass. This time it was a 71-yard completion to No. 1 taking it to the house with 6:43 remaining in the third quarter and adding to the Leflore lead 22-14.
Lumberton’s next possession marched them down the field, putting together a 11-play drive capped off with a 1-yard dive into the end zone by Henry. The junior quarterback’s third touchdown of the night (2 running and 1 passing) cut the Panthers’ deficit to 20-22.
Lumberton decided to go for two points, but fumbled the snap., which forced Henry to scoop the ball up, make a juke and toss the ball laterally to Jason Buckley. Henry then got up and made a block that sent the defender in the air. Buckley cut the play back and found the end zone to tie the ball game at 22 a piece.
With 48 seconds remaining in the third, Leflore found the end zone once again with a passing connection of 28 yards. This score would be the third passing touchdown of the game for the Tigers, and gave Leflore the lead. The Tigers’ two-point conversion was unsuccessful bringing the lead to 28-22.
Lumberton’s Jason Buckley took the next kickoff back 75 yards, only to have it called back due to an excessive celebration penalty. The Panthers gott the ball on their own 22-yard line, only to cough up the ball allowing Leflore to scoop the ball up and run it back 66 yards to their 8-yard line.
The Tigers looked like they were going to score again when Lumberton’s Rodney Parker came up big and intercepted the pass in the end zone for a touchback.
With 3:40 remaining in the game Buckley scored on a 28-yard run giving the Panthers the 29-28 lead.
After a short kickoff to the 50-yard line, Leflore found themselves in their own territory late in the game. Lumberton’s Roland Obanner intercepted the Tigers, bringing the ball back to Lumberton’s 5-yard line where the Panthers ran the clock out and came away with the win.
Coach Zach Jones was overly excited with his team’s play and gave much credit to Leflore in the hard-fought battle.
“I told our kids to keep fighting,” he said. “I’ll be honest with you, that team can play. Hats off to Leflore County. They can flat out play. I truly mean this. It’s a shame that one of us had to lose the ballgame tonight.
“I am so proud of these guys. We have come so far from where we started. Not to knock any of the other kids I have coached, but I have had the most fun coaching this group of guys. I’m just happy to see them be successful. Tonight was a big win for us. We will enjoy it this weekend, then it’s time to get back to work on Monday.”
Lumberton will host the South State Championship, as they welcome the Richton Rebels. The two met in the regular season with Lumberton winning the game 43-6.