By Myra Bean
The North Panola Cougars lost a heartbreaking season opener at home to the Kingbury Falcons, 27-26, Friday night.
It was a beautiful night to open the football season as the temperatures dipped into the high 60s and a slight breeze brought in a little bite to the air.
The teams scored back and forth but the last 1:55 minutes were very exciting. North Panola retook the lead on an eight-yard run by Vernon Lewis. For the first time of the night, the two-point conversion was good for the 26-20 lead.
Kingsbury took advantage of a tired North Panola defense and was able to score in four plays taking it up the middle. On first down, the Falcons went from their own 25 to the Cougars 13 and was brought down by a Cougar Ricky Hunt tackle.
On third and five from the eight, the Falcon runner went straight up the middle untouched to score and tie the game at 26. The PAT was good for the 27-26 lead with 43 seconds left in the game.
The Cougars tried the hurry-up offense for the final 43 seconds from the 50 yard line, but were not able to make any headway to score.
“We had our self to blame,” said Cougar head coach Clifton Davis Jr. “We just wrapped it up and gave it to them. Special teams was non-existent. At times the defense wasn’t and at time the offense wasn’t. It shows what happens when you don’t show up for practice.”
Davis reported that during the second week of practice only five players were present.
“The main thing they have not been here long enough to physically get in shape to play an entire game, even though they thought they were ready to play last week. They found out tonight,” Davis continued. “Even though we had all of those other things that didn’t happen, we should have won the ball game. It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you had the game with 50 seconds left to go, third down, the quarterback can’t throw, it’s just something we gave away.”
North Panola took the opening kickoff and punted it away. The Cougars got the ball back with 8:04 left in the first quarter on a Falcon fumble.
Following the fumble, the Cougars scored on an 11-yard run by Anthony Hibbler to lead 6-0 with 5:43 left in the first quarter. The two-point conversion failed.
Kingsbury also fumbled away its next possession with 1:45 left in the quarter which was recovered by North Panola’s Kenyatte White, but that possession was also punted away.
Kingbury went ahead in the second quarter on a nine-yard pass with 3:34 left. The extra point kick was good for the 7-6 halftime lead.
Both quarterbacks were guilty of an interception in the second quarter. With 1:15 left in the half, Darius Loveberry intercepted a Falcon pass. The Cougars turned that possession over on a interception by the Falcons with three seconds left in the half.
The Falcons scored on a 75-yard kickoff return to open the third quarter. With the PAT, they led 14-6.
The Cougars answered with a 19-yard run by quarterback Quinn Ellis, but the tying two-point conversion failed with 9:25 left in the quarter. The Falcons maintained the lead, 14-12.
North Panola turned the ball over on an interception with 2:55 left in the quarter which was returned to the cougar 16 yard line. Kingsbury fumbled on the one-yard line on third and goal but recovered. That set up a Kingbury one-yard run at the beginning of the fourth quarter at the 11:57 mark. The PAT failed and the lead was 20-12.
North Panola scored with 8:19 left in the game on a one-yard run by Ellis, but again the two-point conversion failed to tie the game. The Falcons led 20-18.
With 1:55 left in the game, the Cougars retook the lead on an eight-yard run by Vernon Lewis. The Cougars converted the two-point conversion on a run by Lewis to lead 26-20.
The Falcons did not give up and took the kickoff to their own 25. On first and 10, the Falcons ran to the Cougar 13 and three plays later scored on an eight-yard run, untouched up the middle to tie the score with 37 seconds left in the game. The PAT was good for the 27-26 lead.
“We did some good things,” Davis said. “Special teams hurt us when they ran the kickoff back. Punter had negative yards. We had those things. We still should have won the game if even by one point. We have to learn from it. Hopefully, we can bounce back and refocus.”
The Cougars had 273 yards of total offense, including 130 rushing and 143 passing. Kingsbury had 305 total yards with 235 rushing and 70 passing.
Ellis completed 15 of 26 attempts for 143 yards and two interceptions. He rushed for 16 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries.
Lewis was the leading rusher with 107 yards on 18 carries and one touchdown. Hibbler had 16 yards on four carries and one touchdown.
The Cougars will be home again Friday night to host JFK out of Mound Bayou in non-conference action. This is the season opener for Kennedy, Region 4-2A. Kennedy finished last season 3-8. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.