Petal rolls Gulfport in first-round contest


GULFPORT – For Petal coach Marcus Boyles, he couldn’t have asked for a better start in the Panthers’ first-round game with Gulfport. Once one domino fell, others followed in the 34-0 upset win over the Admirals.

The win avenges a regular-season loss Petal suffered to Gulfport in Week 2 of the season, and it sets up a second-round date with rival Oak Grove next week.

“I thought we’d come out here and play really good,” Boyles said. “I thought we had a great week of practice, and like I told our kids, nobody really thought we’d come down here and win. Everybody was picking against us and it really didn’t matter. It’s about these 75 guys, the coaches and trainers. What do we believe? That’s all that matters.”

The Panthers recovered two fumbles and intercepted a pass in the first half, leading a 20-0 advantage at the break. Defensively, the Panthers held Gulfport to just 60 yards of total offense through the first two frames, and only 9 yards through a quarter and a half of play, with two total first downs.

“Coming on the road, it’s really nice,” Boyles said. “You need those things. You need a break or two and I think that got us jump-started.”

After Petal punted on the game’s opening possession, Gulfport muffed a punt that Petal senior Kobe Windham recovered. Junior Rashad Handford carried the ball three times for 31 yards on the ensuing drive, capping it off with a 4-yard score to give the visitors a quick 6-0 lead.

“That was huge,” Boyles said of the fumble recovery on the punt. “They muffed the punt and our guys ran down there. I thought our special teams were big tonight.”

Petal’s Michael Windham stopped Gulfport’s first drive of the game with an interception, but it didn’t lead to any points for Petal. But, it did build momentum.

The two battled for field position for a couple of possessions before Petal junior DeCarlos Nicholson led a 63-yard, 8-play drive early in the second quarter. Nicholson rushed for a 17-yard gain then Handford finished it off with a 12-yard touchdown run to take a 13-0 lead.

On the next Petal possession, Nicholson had two rushes that totaled 28 yards, with the latter for a 12-yard touchdown to push his team ahead 20-0.

Gulfport began the second half with its longest drive of the night, but two sacks by junior Ja’kobe O’Neal and senior Dylan Parker forced a punt. The Panthers’ defense only allowed Gulfport to gain 124 yards with only five first downs in the contest. The Admirals had just 26 rushing yards while senior quarterback TQ Newsome passed for 98 yards on 8-of-16 attempts and an interception.

“Our defense is playing lights out right now,” Boyles said. “I’m so proud of that group.”

Like the 63-yard drive in the first half, Petal got the ball back and ran down Gulfport’s throat. Led by McGowan, Handford and Nicholson, Petal ran the ball on all 15 plays to travel 80 yards, and put Petal up 27-0.

Senior J’lin Jones added the fifth and final score of the night, punching it in from the 2 late in the fourth.

“It was the same thing,” Boyles said of the offensive play calling. “We thought we could run the football on them, we really did. We started the game trying to run a little outside zone, and that wasn’t really working. Our offensive line coach said, ‘Hey, let’s run right at them.’ We started running right at them and they had trouble stopping it.”

Gulfport’s best opportunity for a score in the first half came after the third Petal touchdown, but its second fumble – third turnover – ended any hopes of gaining positive momentum heading into halftime.

Petal forced the Admirals to have four three-and-outs on their nine possessions.