A pair of third-quarter touchdowns cut Petal’s lead to three points, but Meridian High School was unable to keep pace the rest of the way as the Wildcats fell to the Panthers 37-20 in Thursday night prep football action.

The homecoming matchup for the Wildcats was originally scheduled for Friday but moved to Thursday due to an officiating shortage. MHS missed the previous two weeks because of a COVID-19 quarantine.

Petal was ahead 23-6 at the half before the Wildcats scored on back-to-back drives to open the second half, but the Panthers went on to score 14 unanswered points to put the game away. A fourth-down stop by MHS in its own territory gave the Wildcats the ball back with less than five minutes to go in the game and trailing 30-20. A fumble on the ensuing play, however, gave it back to Petal, which scored its final touchdown to put the game out of reach.

MHS head coach John Douglass said multiple mistakes by his team proved too much to overcome, and his message to the players after the game centered around fixing the physical and mental errors.

“We fought hard throughout the whole game, and we got a little rally going and got it to within three points, but we had another mistake and turned the football over,” Douglass said. “Regardless of whether it’s a mental error or a turnover, you’re not going to beat good football teams doing that, and that’s what I told them: ‘You played hard, you fought hard, and I’m proud of you for that.’ We just have to fix these mistakes. We have to learn from what happened tonight and don’t do it again.”

Petal had a touchdown in the first quarter, and a blocked punt by the Panthers deep in MHS territory in the second quarter caused the ball to bounce out of the end zone for a safety. The Panthers scored another touchdown before the Wildcats’ Jonathan Vaughn had his first of three scores Thursday with a 6-yard run with 1:25 remaining in the second quarter. Petal, though, drove back down the field and found the end zone again to take a 23-6 lead at intermission.

After MHS forced Petal to punt on the opening drive in the third, the Wildcats drove down the field before Vaughn scored from 3 yards out and Howard Atterberry ran in the two-point conversion to cut the Petal lead to 23-14 with 6:18 left in the third. The Wildcats’ defense got another stop and had another scoring drive, this time allowing Vaughn to find pay dirt from the 2-yard line, but the PAT was no good, and the Panthers’ lead was cut to 23-20.

“We just went in there (at the half) and talked them up and got their heads up and told them to stay in it and that we had an opportunity to get back in this thing,” Douglass said. “We made some adjustments based on some things that were working for us in the first half and got a wrinkle or two off of that, and once we got the first score everyone’s attitude and momentum picked up a little bit, and the second one really got us going. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t sustain it.”

Following homecoming announcements at the half, MHS honored former head coach and 1998 MHS graduate Calvin Hampton, who was killed in a car accident Thursday afternoon. Hampton has been Southeast Lauderdale’s head coach since 2019, and Southeast Lauderdale defensive coordinator James Miller accepted a plaque commemorating Hampton at midfield on behalf of Hampton’s family.

MHS vs. Petal 3

Southeast Lauderdale defensive coordinator James Miller, left, accepts a plaque on behalf of the Hampton family honoring former MHS head coach and 1998 MHS graduate Calvin Hampton from MHS Athletic Director Cheyenne Trussell, right, and Meridian Public School District Superintendent Amy Carter, center, at halftime.

The Wildcats (1-7, 1-4) will travel to Terry next week. The Oak Grove and Brandon games scheduled for Oct. 8 and 16, respectively, were counted as forfeits due to the team being under COVID-19 quarantine those weeks.

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