Will the real Meridian Wildcats please stand up?
Are they the team that got drilled the past two weeks by Oak Grove and Brandon by a combined margin of eight touchdowns? Or are they the team that roared through fourth-ranked Petal Friday night like Mongols on a rampage?
The Wildcats did nearly everything to perfection at Panther Stadium, demolishing Petal 45-21 in a Region 3-6A contest. Meridian improved to 6-3 overall and 3-2 in region; Petal dropped to 7-2 and 3-2.
“If you look at the games we’ve lost, we’ve not been getting any stops on defense, no takeaways and we’ve been turning the ball over,” said Meridian coach Larry Weems. “Christmas had been coming early for teams playing us.
“As good as this region is, if you don’t do those things, at least you’ve got a chance to win, and our kids did that tonight.”
Petal came into the game somewhat short-handed, with injuries to a number of key players. Missing in action Friday night were starting quarterback Kyle Smith, tailback James Milledge and star wide receiver Jesse Jackson.
But Panther head coach Marcus Boyles refused to use injuries as an excuse, and, frankly, the way the two teams played, it probably wouldn’t have mattered if Petal had been at full strength.
“We weren’t (short-handed),” said Boyles. “It was just great execution by Meridian’s offense, and we didn’t show up to play.”
Chief executioner for the Wildcats was junior quarterback Jamar Smith, who carved up the Panthers on the ground and through the air.
Smith rushed 18 times for 105 yards and a touchdown, and completed 7 of 14 passes for 182 yards. Senior Richard McQuarley added 98 yards on 20 carries and scored three touchdowns.
“We knew we had to come out here and win this game,” said Smith. “We were in a big hole after the last two weeks, so we wanted to show we’re still a team that needs to be reckoned with.”
It didn’t start out that way, however.
After holding the Wildcats on a three-and-out, Petal drove right down the field for a score, largely on the legs of senior Tyus Raine, who ran 10 times for 72 yards on the drive, getting in on a 1-yard run on fourth down.
But the Wildcats then scored touchdowns on their next three possessions to take command.
Smith scored on a 1-yard dive on fourth down, after a screen pass to Corey Davis went for 60 yards to the Petal 5-yard-line.
McQuarley then capped an eight-play, 52-yard drive with a 2-yard run, and Austin Holt made it 21-7 on a 7-yard burst.
Petal climbed back in the game right before halftime, driving 80 yards on six plays, with Raine getting the score on an 8-yard run.
However, the Wildcats beat the clock to get Aaron Garrett in position for a 32-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.
Any notion that the Panthers might come back, however, was squashed by a rapid sequence of miscues that put the game all but out of reach.
A muffed punt gave Meridian a short field, and two pass interference calls helped the Wildcats get in the end zone on McQuarley’s 15-yard run. Then, on the first play after the kickoff, Quez Bell stepped in front of a Samuel Hopper pass and dashed 25 yards for a pick-six.
“We made some huge mistakes in the special teams, and we didn’t execute well on offense most of the night,” said Boyles. “We’ve just got to come in Monday and get ready to hopefully beat Forest Hill next week and Terry the week after that.
“If we don’t win those games, we won’t make the playoffs.”
Raine finished the night with 165 yards on 30 carries to lead Petal.
“I’m not saying we’re a better team than Petal,” said Weems. “But the team that played the best tonight won the game, and I’m really proud of our kids.”
Will the real Meridian Wildcats please stand up?
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