By Tony Tsoukalas / Sports Writer
The Meridian Star
Quitman battled through bad calls, turnovers and just about everything else that could go wrong against West Lauderdale. However, nothing could stop the Panthers on Friday night, as they beat the Knights 28-19 to improve to 8-1 on the season.
“There is a lot of things you learn about your football team in games like this,” Quitman coach Steve Bynum said. “If something could go wrong, it did tonight.”
The Knights struck first in the second quarter, taking advantage of an interception by Quitman quarterback Franklin Jones and marching 75 yards down field on five plays en route to a 15-yard touchdown run by running back Jarkeith Ruffin. After a blocked extra point, West led the heavily-favored Panthers 6-0.
Quitman would not take long to respond. Jones found wide receiver Toriano Howard on a screen pass, and the speedy receiver did the rest, darting 65 yards to the end zone to give the Panthers a 7-6 lead with 6:08 left in the half.
The Panthers’ luck would soon change.
Quitman forced West into a punting situation on fourth-and-8 from the Knights’ 43-yard line. However, instead of punting, punter Tyler Germany found a wide-open Winston Lewis who ran untouched into the end zone. The Knights missed the extra point, but the damage was already done, as West showed it would not go down without a fight on senior night.
“I thought our whole team fought hard,” West Lauderdale coach Stan McCain said. “I was proud of the effort from our kids, they played a good football team down to the wire.”
If Quitman fans were not worried after the fake punt, they certainly were after the Panthers put the ball on the ground the following drive only to see the Knights scoop it up and return it 57 yards to the 3. Two plays later, West quarterback Tyler Turnage found Chase Irby in the end zone to put the Knights up 19-7 heading into the half.
“I went into halftime and told my guys to settle down,” Bynum said. “You could see the panic, and we just needed to calm down, we have been here before.”
The Panthers respond to their coach’s advice in the second half, as Jones lead Quitman on a 98-yard drive ending with the shifty quarterback scampering into the end zone from 31 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 19-14. Jones took the ball nine times on the drive for 81 yards to bring the Panthers back to life.
“I was just thinking, the whole time coach told us to just play hard,” Jones said. “We weren't going to lose this game, we just needed to execute, and that's what we did.”
With 7:43 left in the fourth quarter, Jones finished the job, running in a touchdown from four yards out and then converting on a two-point conversion to give the Panthers a 22-19 lead. Jones finished the game with 160 yards and two touchdowns.
“He had the whole group behind him, and he really did a good job.” Bynum said. “We just went out there and did what we needed to do.”
Running back Josh Davis tacked on another touchdown, as Quitman moved to 3-0 in district play.
Bynum said he was glad to have a close game to wake his team up, especially with a potential divisional championship against Northeast Jones next week.
“We are No.1 and No.2 in the district right now,” Bynum said of the matchup with the Tigers. “It's going to be a hard fought ballgame, and the district championship could be on the line.”