North Panola football

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Cougars take big district win from Hawks with second half shutout

By Brad Greer

In the previous two games that resulted in losses, North Panola seems to find ways to lose close games. But on Friday night the Cougars found a way pull out a victory in a 24-20 come-from- behind win over visiting Holly Springs in a Region 3-3A contest.

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Trailing 20-18 at halftime, the Cougars took the second half kickoff and drove 55 yards in 10 plays, capped off by a 13-yard touchdown run by quarterback Quinn Ellis with 6:47 remaining in the third period for the winning score.

The rest of the night belonged to the Cougar defense that, despite being outgained in total yardage 154-49 in the first half, held the Hawks to 36 total yards in the second half including a paltry six yards rushing. The North Panola ground game kicked into high gear behind the duo of Bruce Wilbourn and Vernon Lewis who grounded out 99 yards rushing in the second half.

Wilbourn turned in another outstanding performance accounting for 167 all-purpose yards. He rushed for 72 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown while Lewis carried the ball 14 times for 34 yards. Wilbourn’s leaping one-yard touchdown run with 2:59 left in the first period got North Panola on the board at 6-0 with the two-point conversion failing.

“We had a little talk at halftime and made some adjustments and came out in the second half and dominated the line of scrimmage,” said left tackle Templeton Hardy who also registered nine tackles from his defensive tackle position. “Second half we started double teaming the noseguard and making some lanes for Bruce and Vernon to run through. Vernon ran the ball hard there in the fourth quarter when we needed that extra yard. This was a big win tonight. Any district win is big but you always want to get that first ‘W’ under your belt,” said Hardy.

Special teams play for both teams sparked the first half as three touchdowns were scored by both teams in the half. North Panola took a 12-0 lead late in the first quarter when Darius Loveberry scooped up a 30-yard fumble by Holly Spring’s punter James Echols and raced to the end zone.

But on the following kickoff, Desley Brown picked up the squib kick at his own 28 and rambled 72 yards to paydirt for the score. Echols added the PAT to make it 12-7.

The Hawks grabbed the lead at 14-12 in the second quarter when quarterback Demetri Oliver hit Brandon Thomas on a 47-yard scoring strike with Echols adding the point after.

North Panola regained the lead at 18-14 with 4:03 remaining in the half as Wilbourn electrified the home crowd with a dazzling 35-yard punt return. The senior also hauled in four receptions for 25 yards and one kickoff return for 35 yards and punted four times for a 31.5 average.

Holly Springs answered right back to take a 20-18 lead when Brown busted up the middle for a 33-yard touchdown run with 2:51 left before intermission. The drive went 54 yards on three plays and took all of 1:10 seconds. Brown led the Hawks with 100 yards on 16 carries.

The Hawks gained 190 yards on the night with 128 coming on the ground and 62 by air while the Cougars rolled up 129 yards rushing and 25 yards passing for 154 yards. Holly Springs had five first downs in the game and were penalized 11 times for 63 yards. North Panola registered 10 first downs while being flagged five times for 30 yards.

Afterwards, an exhausted North Panola head coach Clifton Davis Jr. talked about his team’s gritty comeback.

“I was not pleased with our offense in the first half. For some reason we just looked like they were going through the motions out there. Our defense played well in spots in the first half that kept us in the game. We made some adjustments at halftime and told them we can run the ball and the offensive line did an outstanding job of creating holes for our running backs.

“I thought Vernon ran the ball harder than he has the entire year and of course, Bruce did another great job. But my hat’s off to the entire offensive line and defense. They basically won the game for us,” added Davis.

North Panola evened its record at 2-2 on the year and 1-0 in district play while Holly Springs falls to 1-3 and 0-1. The Cougars hit the road next week up I-55 to take on the Byhalia Indians in another district contest.

Byhalia hammered Lewisburg 66-28 Friday night.