PETAL, MS (WDAM) - Meridian managed to hold off a late fourth-quarter Petal drive and snuck out of Petal Panther Stadium with a 14-6 victory. With the win, the wildcats (9-0, 5-0) remain undefeated and take sole possession of first place in region 3-6A.
Based on the first quarter, it looked as if fans were in for a high-scoring affair, but it was the fourth quarter that decided the outcome.
Leading 14-6 with under 3:00 remaining in the game, Meridian managed to keep Petal (5-4, 4-1) out of the endzone after allowing the panthers to drive to the 2-yard line. On fourth-and-goal from the 2, the panthers were flagged five yards for a delay of game penalty, and the ensuing fourth down conversion attempt failed.
Midway through the fourth, it was matter of three plays during which the game completely turned. Trailing 7-6 at the start of the fourth quarter, Petal advanced all the way to the 15-yard line behind the legs of senior quarterback Anthony Alford. Not ten minutes after suffering what appeared to be a leg cramp, Alford kept the ball on a designed option and bolted through the line for the big gain.
The very next play, Alford decided to hand the ball off, but muffed the exchange. Meridian recovered the lose ball and returned it all the way to the Petal 15-yard line. Two plays later, Meridian freshman quarterback Jamarius Smith tossed his second touchdown pass of the night to make the score 14-6.
Smith, who's only 15 years old and was brought up to the varsity team from junior-varsity at the start of the season, threw his first touchdown strike in the first quarter to senior receiver Isaac Johnson on fourth-and-four.
It was the panthers who struck first on the first drive of the game on a Alford designed keeper. The senior kept the ball on an option run up the right side, and sprinted passed four defenders down the sideline for the score. The extra point attempt failed, but the panthers still held the first lead of the ball game 6-0.
Meridian entered Friday night's showdown only allowing seven points a game, while Petal came in scoring over 30 points a contest. Barring a miraculous upset by either Terry or Forrest Hill, Meridian will walk away with the region crown, while Petal's one loss leaves them alone in second place.