Pascagoula trailed all night Friday except when it mattered most.
With the clock rapidly running out, and the Panthers trailing host Stone High by four, running back Delvin “Trey” Abney took the handoff from quarterback Hunter Collins and muscled his way into the end zone.
The 4-yard score with 11 seconds remaining ended up being the decisive punch in what turned out to be a heavyweight bout between two Region 4-5A contenders as the Panthers held on to win 19-17.
“That was just dadgum wanting the end zone,” PHS coach Lewis Sims said. “That was hunger.”
The Panthers (3-3, 2-0) looked off for parts of the first half. Pascagoula fumbled a handful of times but were lucky enough to only lose two.
Going into halftime, the Panthers had a chance to pull within three of the No. 6 Tomcats (4-2, 1-1). After being stuffed on first-and-goal at the 1, Collins bobbled the snap and Stone recovered as time expired.
Instead of moping, Pascagoula rallied during halftime. The Panthers didn’t make any adjustments, Sims said, except for cleaning play up on their sideline. The mental improvements worked.
After trading possessions for much of the third quarter, Pascagoula mounted an eight-play, 70-yard scoring drive that featured a healthy dose of standout running back Reginald Hunter.
Stone kept Hunter in check for much of the first half, limiting him to 47 yards and a 1-yard touchdown on 11 carries. On Pascagoula’s first scoring drive of the second half, Hunter broke free for a 44-yard run and three plays later punched the ball in on a 1-yard score. Pascagoula missed the extra point but had pulled within striking distance of the lead with 13:51 remaining in the game.
“We’re fighters. We battle and believe in our conditioning and schemes. We just have to execute,” Sims said. “... You can’t be down, you can’t be bitter, you can’t be victims. You have to step it up, be coachable and do the things you’re coached to do. I thought our guys were very coachable.
“They came out at halftime and it wasn’t clean or pretty but they learned to win tonight.”
Both sides once again traded possessions in the fourth with neither offense able to muster much momentum until Pascagoula’s final possession.
Once again Hunter came up big to spark the Panthers.
After PHS forced a punt with under a minute remaining, Hunter broke free for a 36-yard run around the left side and down Stone’s sideline. Following an 11-yard pass from Collins to Javarous Walker and two runs from Hunter, Abney plunged into the end zone for the go-ahead score with a defender wrapped around him.
“It was open, then it closed up and I had to bust it back open,” Abney said of the hole in his offensive line. “Had to make a play.”
Stone took over at Pascagoula’s 49 but two straight incompletions sealed the win, Pascagoula’s third straight.
“We’re just not ready as a program right now to move forward. We’re not ready,” Stone High coach John Feaster said. “I likened it to a heavyweight fight. We had them on the ropes all night. They out-lasted us and ended up knocking us out in the end.
“It just shows they’re a better coached ball club than us right now and their players are ready for the moment because they out-lasted us. They out-lasted us.”
Stone looked like the better team for much of the first half and it showed on the scoreboard. Terrion Avery scored twice on runs of 2 and 17 yards, and Mason Hunt drilled a 48-yard field goal to help build the Tomcats’ 17-7 halftime advantage at A.L. May Memorial Stadium.
In the second half, however, Pascagoula kept Avery bottled up. The standout running back entered the game averaging 200 yards per contest but was held to 103 on 24 carries.
Hunter finished with a game-high 138 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
“Big time players make big time plays in big time situations. Bottom line,” Sims said. “We challenged (Hunter) to step up and make a big play and he did.”
Stone will continue its Region 4-5A schedule on Friday with a road game at Gautier. Pascagoula (3-3, 2-0) will host West Harrison.