A couple of fast starts in each half gave the Petal Panthers the upper hand in a first-round matchup with the D’Iberville Warriors Friday night.
Despite a furious comeback by the Warriors, Petal held on for a 42-28 win, and the Panthers will travel to Meridian in the second round of the 6A playoffs next week.
“Give credit to D’Iberville,” Petal coach Marcus Boyles said. “They didn’t quit. We probably relaxed a little bit. We get the big lead, 42-7, then we probably relaxed a little bit. They hit some big plays, so give them credit.”
When Petal received the opening kickoff, it needed six plays to get inside the Warriors’ 5-yard line. Completions from senior quarterback Jordan Wilson to seniors Nic Russell and Marquise Bridges, and a couple of big runs from senior Nataurean “Phat” Watts, put the ball at the 4.
It took Watts three tries, but he finally punched it in from the 1 to give Petal a quick 7-0 lead.
On the Warriors’ first drive, sophomore quarterback Jaden Walley coughed it up on third-and-8, and Petal’s Kobe Windham recovered. Three plays later, junior Semaj Silas scored from the 1 to push the Panthers’ lead to 14-0.
Watts scored from the 63-yard line on the next Petal drive, as he dodged a few would-be tacklers. That gave Petal a commanding 21-0 lead early in the second quarter.
“Against a team like D’Iberville, the wing-T that doesn’t want to throw the football a lot, you want to start fast,” Boyles said. “You want to get ahead of them. That was huge.”
D’Iberville would add a score with less than 30 seconds left in the half, and it was the first promising drive from the Warriors. They only had three first downs prior to the scoring drive, and it cut the Petal lead to 21-7 at the break.
Extending the lead
Even though D’Iberville went into halftime with a little momentum, Petal quickly retook it with three quick scores in the third quarter.
After a D’Iberville three-and-out, Watts scored from the 33-yard line on Petal’s third offensive play of the second half. That gave the Panthers a 28-7 lead.
Watts finished the game with 166 rushing yards and two scores on 14 carries, and he caught six passes for 69 yards. He left the game in the second half due to an injury and didn’t return.
“He played really well for us,” Boyles said. “He ran the ball well, caught a few passes. He’s just a big-time player for us.”
Boyles said they would keep an eye on Watts’ undisclosed injury and reevaluate after the weakened.
On the ensuing kickoff, Petal recovered a fumble on a pooch kick, marking the second time in two games it got a turnover with a pooch kick, and it needed just one play to strike again.
“The kid, we thought he would fair-catch it, and he didn’t,” Boyles said. “I guess he was just trying to make a big play for them, fumbled it, and it was a big play for us.”
Wilson found senior Natorian “Deuce” Watts on a screen to the right side, then he broke a tackle and raced up the sideline for the 33-yard score. A few minutes later, Silas scored from the 8-yard line to push the lead to 42-7.
With 5:78 left in the third quarter, the Warriors had a 12-play, 61-yard drive to get back on the board, cutting the lead to 42-14.
On the kickoff, the Warriors’ kicker hit a perfect onside kick to himself and he recovered. On 2-and-10 from the Petal 23, Walley found senior Fred Green for a 23-yard score. After the 2-point play was successful, Petal led 42-22.
Petal Silas’ carried the ball a few times on the next drive, then a bad snap to Wilson led to a bad quarterback-running back exchanging, which resulted to a fumble recovery by D’Iberville’s Chad Searight. The Warriors quickly turned it into 6, cutting the lead to 42-28.
Silas fumbled again four plays later, but D’Iberville turned the ball over on downs to give Petal the ball back for good.
“Semaj is just playing hard and trying to get extra yardage,” Boyles said. “He should have just went down.”