LUMBERTON, MS (WDAM) - After about a half hour, Lumberton High football coach Zach Jones was able to shed his mask of misery Friday afternoon beneath Davis Wade Stadium.
But the pain of the Panthers' 30-26 loss to Hollandale Simmons High School in the Class 1A Mississippi high school championship game will linger for a long while yet, Jones said.
"The bad part about this is there's only one team that can be happy when it's all said and done," Jones said.
Two Lumberton turnovers led to 14, first-half points for the Blue Devils and five trips to the Simmons 25-yard line or better came up empty for the Panthers.
And yet, with less than a minute to play, Lumberton was throwing into the end zone, trying desperately to wring the last few points needed to properly cap a season to remember.
"I figure that for just about the rest of my life, I'll be thinking about that," Jones said. "It's like I told our kids, big games, three or four or five plays are going to define the ballgame, and unfortunately (Friday), they didn't go our way."
The Blue Devils (13-0), the defending 1A champions, won their 25th consecutive game while snapping Lumberton's 11-game winning streak.
The loss also marked the first time in five trips to the state football finals that Lumberton (12-3) had not won the crown. The Panthers won state titles in 1983, 2004, 2005 and 2010.
"This one, it's even better," Simmons football coach Tavares Johnson said. "We're just real happy to be in this situation, where the kids played real hard for us. They represented the city of Hollandale real well. We just wanted to go out there and show some people that the Delta can play some good football, too."
Simmons running back Marquez Pam, who was named Most Valuable Player, ran for 91 yards and two touchdowns and also caught a 2-point conversion pass.
Quarterback Chandler Robinson ran 4 yards for one touchdown and threw 19 yards to Amos Robinson for a second. He also threw a pair of 2-point conversion passes, one each to Pam and Sumetris Stewart.
Pam also had a 1-yard touchdown as Simmons led 22-6 at halftime. Two first-quarter interceptions by Lumberton quarterback Jared Tribett set up short fields that led to 14 Blue Devil points.
"That wasn't a good thing, but our kids could have packed it on up and just quit, but they did not," Jones said. "I wasn't really that worried about it. I knew they were going to get after it."
The plays erased a 6-0 Lumberton lead, forged when Erron Joseph blocked Aaron Davis' punt and Davion Edwards scooped up the loose ball and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown.
Tribett came up big in the second half.
Nineteen-yard and 1-yard runs by Tribett pulled the Panthers within 22-20 less than 2 minutes into the final quarter.
Pam's 4-yard run and Demarrius Turner's 2-point conversion run bumped the Blue Devils' lead back to 30-20 with 4:34 to play, but Tribett's 16-yard pass to Joseph got Lumberton back within four points with 1:48 to play.
A successful on-side kick gave the Panthers ball at Simmons' 45-yard line, and a 19-yard pass to Joseph and 9-yard run by Dre Coleman (game-high 114 yards rushing) brought the ball to the 17.
But a holding penalty bumped the ball back 10 yards, and a run for no gain was followed by two incomplete passes, ending the Panthers' comeback hopes.
"It hurts, but you may wake up next week, or it may be in a month or it may be in three months, but you're going to be able to look back and be proud of what we accomplished."
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