HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Petal senior quarterback Anthony Alford has earned numerous pre-season accolades, continues to pile up stats like grass from under a lawn-mower, and is among the most sought-after prospects in Mississippi. But just in case anybody still doubted his abilities, he proved it on the biggest stage.
The Petal panthers rolled into Warrior Stadium to face their cross-town rivals, the Oak Grove Warriors. Petal stood at 2-3, and were looking desperately to improve back to .500, while Oak Grove hadn't lost a game all season and looked impressive doing it.
The warriors were ranked the number one 6A team in the state and owned a considerable winning record over the panthers over the past few seasons. None of that mattered to Alford. The only thing on Alford's mind entering Friday night's showdown: Nov. 12, 2010.
That night, Petal lost a heartbreaker to Oak Grove 35-34 in the first round of the 6A state playoffs. "That feeling from last year was kind of eating me up on the inside," recalled Alford.
Alford's chance at redemption didn't start out the way he planned. The panthers stepped off the field at half-time trailing 23-12, and with seemingly no momentum after allowing a safety on a punt, and a touchdown in the final four minutes before the half.
To make matters worse, Alford began his first drive of the second half at his own 5-yard line. Five plays later, everything changed. Alford completed a 50-yard pass down the sideline, then ran in the remaining 40-plus yards to the endzone to close the gap to 23-18. After a three-and-out, Alford again drove his team to another score with a mix of brilliant passes and runs. After the panthers took the lead 24-23, it was official: Alford took over.
He finished the night nine of 14 passing for 232 yards and two touchdowns. On the ground, Alford rushed for 207 yards and another two scores. Both were season highs. To put things in perspective, the team racked up 518 total yards. Alford had 430.
On the year, Alford has totaled 585 yards passing, 934 yards on the ground and 16 total touchdowns.
As for panthers' head coach Steven Buckley, all he could do on the sideline was smile.
"You know, what he did Friday night didn't surprise us at all," said Buckley, "I think big time players step up in big time games, and certainly that was a big football game for our football team this year."
There may only be one stage bigger than the one Alford shined on on Friday night, the playoffs. Just a friendly word of advice to any team that might face the panthers on said stage, don't dare this young man to up his performance at Oak Grove. He'll gladly take you up on that.