NP Cougars football

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Coach speechless over Cougars’ play

By Brad Greer

Having already ‘sewn up’ a playoff berth two weeks ago with a win over Lewisburg, North Panola still had a lot to play for Friday night against Independence.

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Seven seniors played their final home game of the regular season and with a victory could have remained in first place all alone in the district standings.

Instead, the Cougars’ uninspired and lackadaisical effort cost them dearly as Independence rolled to a 34-14 victory. The win by the Wildcats caused a logjam atop the division standings with North Panola, Byhalia and Senatobia all sitting in first place with one loss each.

The loss left Cougar head coach Clifton Davis Jr. almost speechless.

 “I am truly at a loss of words about how we played tonight,” Davis said. “I just do not understand it. This was the poorest game we’ve played all season. There was no fire in our eyes, no passion and that comes all back to us as a coaching staff. We’ve got to get the kids ready to play ball and we did not do a good job of that tonight. We had everything to play for and came out flat.”

North Panola, (4-4 overall; 3-1 district) did not help their cause in any way by turning the ball over seven times in the game.

Quarterback Quin Ellis was 7-of- 21 passing for 116 yards but was intercepted five times while the Wildcat defense held Cougar star running back Bruce Wilbourn to 52 yards rushing on 16 carries.

Independence (5-3 overall, 3-2 district), meanwhile, rolled up 314 yards total offense with 197 of that coming on the ground. Quarterback Jeremy Langston was 5-of- 17 for 117 yards and a touchdown.

Things did not look good for the home team on the opening kickoff as Lacy Jackson scooped up the ball and raced 75 yards untouched into the endzone with just 13 seconds ticked off the clock. Jackson then added the point after for a 7-0 ‘Cats lead.

North Panola took their opening possession and marched to the Independence 22-yard line before D.J. Newson picked off an Ellis pass.

The score remained that way until midway through the second quarter when the Wildcats put together a nine-play 55-yard scoring drive capped off by a six-yard touchdown run by Langston with 4:24 left before intermission to make the score 14-0 after the Jackson PAT.

The drive was aided by a controversial pass interference call 4th-and 9 on the North Panola 15 that gave the Wildcats a new set of downs to work with as Langston scored two plays later.

North Panola was held to 41 yards of offense in the first half, finished the game with 215 yards of offense and 11 first downs while being flagged five times for 45 yards.

Independence capitalized on a Tevin Faulkner fumble on the Cougar 45 to take a 21-0 lead as Jackson bolted in from 20 yards out with 6:55 remaining in the third quarter. Jackson’s 12-yard burst on 2nd –and- 8 from the North Panola 34 keyed the drive.

The Cougars finally showed some spark on the ensuing kickoff when Trey Tucker caught the ball on the 25 and raced 75 yards for a touchdown. Wilbourn’s run for the two-point conversion failed leaving the score 21-6 at the 6:48 mark.

After forcing the ‘Cats to punt on the next series, North Panola started on their own 14-yard line. Ellis connected with Roderick Frost for a 19-yard completion to the 33. On the next play, Ellis and Frost hooked up again, this time for a 66-yard bomb down to the Wildcat one where Wilbourn plowed in for the score. Wilbourn then ran in the conversion attempt to make it 21-14 with 3:40 left in the quarter.

The fired-up Cougar defense then forced Independence to punt on the next drive. There, perhaps, the biggest turnaround of the game occurred.

After fielding the punt at his own 32, Wilbourn raced 30 yards into Wildcat territory where he fumbled the ball after his knee was clearly down, but the official saw it otherwise and awarded the ball to Independence.  On the next play, Langston hit Newson on a middle screen play that went for 59 yards and a touchdown making the score 28-14 after Jackson’s PAT.

Newson iced the game for the ‘Cats with 4:14 left in the game on a 60-yard interception return.

“We are just going to have to regroup and play better next week. There is a lot of football still to be played,” said Davis.

Frost led North Panola with three catches for 95 yards while Wilbourn, Faulkner, Randy House and Rodregus Salter all had one reception each.

Kenny Jones followed Wilbourn in rushing yardage with three carries for 29 yards while Salter also had three totes for 17 yards.

Wilbourn, Tucker, Trustin Perry, Frost, Darryel Burdette, Templeton Hardy and David Turner, along with the senior cheerleaders and members of the North Panola “Atomic Cats” marching band, were honored at halftime.

The Cougars will hit the road Friday to take on Senatobia in a big 7 p.m. district matchup.