By Tony Tsoukalas / Sports Writer
The Meridian Star
When Dalton Ezell stepped up to kick a game-winning 23-yard field goal, there was no way he was going to miss.
Following an interception in double overtime, the Greene County High School kicker was one play away from sending his team to Jackson to play in the state championship.
Ezell didn’t disappoint either. The kicker lined up, and knocked the ball square through the uprights, giving Greene County a 24-21 win against Quitman in the MHSAA Class 4A South State championship game and sending the crowd at John Ainsworth Field in to a wild cheer. The Panthers finished one game shy of their first state championship berth for the second straight season.
“I was just ready, and I was pumped,” Ezell said. “I wasn’t nervous, I was ready. I know how to get the job done. When they intercepted it, I knew I was ready to kick that field goal if I needed to.”
Quitman was the first to score early in the second quarter, as the Panthers capitalized on a muffed punt in the end zone. Joshua Robinson fell on the bobbled ball, and the Panthers jumped out to a 7-0 lead.
Wide receiver Toriano Howard busted a 31-yard touchdown on a sweep play to give the Panthers a commanding 14-0 lead heading into halftime.
However, Quitman’s offense faltered from there.
Both teams struggled to move the ball in the third quarter. Greene County quarterback Terrance Woods was able to move his team down the field late in the quarter though, and the Wildcats found themselves in the Quitman red zone to start the fourth quarter.
Running back Marco Franks began the comeback for Greene County, running in a touchdown with from 10 yards out to cut the lead to 14-7.
After a blocked punt gave the Wildcats the ball at the Quitman 43-yard line, the Wildcats drove down to the t2-yard line, where Franks would shine again.
On fourth-and-2, the talented running back burst through the line and into the end zone to tie the game at 14-14 and give the Wildcats new hope.
Quitman continued to struggle on offense in the second half, as Greene County defenders keyed in on quarterback Franklin Jones and limited the Panther run game.
“Greene County played great defense,” Quitman head coach Steve Bynum said. “They played aggressive, got after it, and you really have to take your hats off to them.”
In overtime, Greene County struck first, as once again it was Franks who found his way into the end zone.
The Panthers received a heroic effort by Howard, who caught a 10-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal to keep the Panthers alive and send the game into double overtime. However, unlike last weeks 47-40 triple-overtime win against Forrest County AHS last week, the Panthers ran out of overtime magic.
“We are super proud of these kids and what they have accomplished,” Bynum said. “It happens, and that’s just football. It’s what makes it great.”
Greene County will advance to play in the 4A state championship against Noxubee County on Saturday.
“This is an amazing feeling,” Wood said. “I’m proud of my team, and I’m proud to represent the South. We won this one for all our lost friends and injured players. It is just a great feeling.”