Petal wins in overtime against #2 ranked Pearl.

By JESSE JOHNSON,

It was a homecoming game many won’t soon forget as the Petal Panthers defeated the state’s No. 2-ranked Pearl Pirates in an overtime thriller that lived up to the hype.

“Our character made the difference in this ball game,” head coach Marcus Boyles said. “We had to keep believing and fighting. I told them at the half that they were not going to quit.”

And obviously they didn’t.

The Panthers made a dominant showing from both sides of the ball during the first half of play.

Petal struck first on a 16-play drive with a 9-yard touchdown run from senior Micah Mcgowen with 5:51 remaining in the first quarter. This score gave the Panthers the early lead and set the tone for the first half of play.

After a couple of defensive stops from both teams, the score remained 7-0 at the end of the first quarter.

Pearl answered back with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Gunnar Dennis to Leo Mcintyre with 10:55 remaining in the second quarter. The extra point was wide right putting the score at 7-6.

It took Petal only 2:19 to respond with a touchdown. Senior quarterback Decarlos Nicholson hit Micah Cherry for a 28-yard pass to extend the Panther lead to 14-6 with 8:36 left in the second quarter.

Pearl received the ball back only to give it right back to Petal with an interception on the Panther 35-yard line. Two plays later Mcgowen broke free for a 35- yard run to find the end zone for the second time in the first half. Petal found themselves up by 15 with 6:44 remaining in the half.

On the next possession from scrimmage, the Pirates put together a nice 11-play drive and found the end zone on a four-yard touchdown run by Kenyanna Harrell. Following the extra point, the Pirates narrowed the Panthers’ lead to 21-13 with 3:26 remaining in the half. 

A key pass interference call on third and one against the Pirates’ defense extended the drive for the Panthers. Three plays later, Nicholson hit wideout Jonathon Harris in stride for a 54-yard score, putting the Panthers up 28-13 going into the half.

Boyles said he felt good about his team heading into halftime but knew there was going to be a dogfight during the remaining half of play.

“We made a couple of costly penalties, but overall I was pleased with our production,” he said. “We’ve got 24 more minutes and we’ve got to finish this game out.”

In the second half of play the Pirates came out determined to erase their 15-point deficit. It was going to be a tough task at this point as the Pirates had to do it without starting running back Kenyanna Harrel, who left the game due to an injury.

The Pirates started the second half with a 12-play drive highlighted with a 34-yard pass to the 10-yard line. This set up a touchdown run by backup running back Carleontaye Spires and cut the Panther lead to just 8 points, 28-20, with 7:12 remaining in the third. 

After a couple of defensive stops from both teams, Pearl found the end zone again with another touchdown run by Spires. The eight-yard touchdown run was capped off with a successful two-point conversion, tying the ball game at 28-28 with 8:24 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Petal ate up about six minutes of the clock on the next drive leading to a 28-yard field goal and a 31-28 lead with 3:54 remaining.

Pearl came back and matched the three-point deficit with a 26-yard field goal to even the score with 54 seconds remaining and sending the game into overtime.

On the first possession of overtime, the Panthers found themselves third and goal. Boyles called on his senior quarterback to strike first, finding junior wideout Jonathon Harris on a three-yard touchdown to the left side of the end zone. After a successful extra point the Panthers were up 38-31.

It only took Pearl two plays to find the end zone as Spires punched in on a two-yard scramble up the middle, his third touchdown of the night.

The Panthers then called a timeout as the Pirates decided to go for the win with a two-point conversion.

Pearl handed the ball off to Spires who got stuffed on the four-yard line giving the Panthers the homecoming victory in overtime.

After the game Boyles said he had every bit of confidence putting the ball in the hands of his senior quarterback in the last play of overtime for the Panthers.

“We count on the coaches to put us in the best situation possible,” Nicholson said. “(It) just shows how much a family we are. He relies on us to execute what we practice and that’s what we did. This is an important win for us moving forward.”

Underclassman Jonathon Harris knew what he had to do to execute the last play of the drive for the Panthers with his game-winning catch.

“When coach calls your number, you’ve got to step up and make the play,” Harris said, “especially in a game as important as this one. We picked this game for homecoming because we thought it was a good matchup. So when coach calls on me to catch the ball, I’ve got to do it. This is just the beginning for us.”

Key defensive stops and confidence in Boyle’s playmakers contributed to the victory for the Panthers.

“Decarlos and our guys played big,” Boyles said. “We haven’t run that last play in a while but we had every bit of confidence in relying on our guys to execute the play.

I’m really proud of our team.”

The victory for the Panthers will be short lived as they head to cross-town rival Oak Grove in another tough division play Friday night. The Warriors fell short with a tough division loss to George County 24-20.