PETAL, MS (WDAM) - Less than a month ago, Petal High School had one football victory to its credit, having dropped six of its first seven games, including an 0-3 start in Region 3-6A play.
Thursday night, the Panthers walked off their home turf with their fourth consecutive victory and a head of steam heading into the first round of the Class 6A playoffs.
Junior quarterback DeCarlos Nicholson completed 13-of-14 passes in the first half for the 199 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-7 region victory over visiting Terry High School in the regular-season finale for both schools.
“This was important for us to keep the momentum going into the playoffs,” said Nicholson, who threw an incompletion on his only pass attempt of the second half as the Panthers stuck to the ground game and substituted liberally over the final two quarters.
“A lot of people lost faith in us, but the guys in the locker room, we all rallied around because we knew what we could do.”
The Panthers (5-6, 4-3 Region 3-6A), who last week locked up the fourth seed in 3-6A, will travel to Gulfport High School for an opening-round game when the Class 6A playoffs open on Nov. 2.
The Admirals (9-1, 6-0 Region 4-6A), who will carry a seven-game winning streak into Friday’s 7 p.m. regular-season finale with Biloxi High School, already has Region 6-4A and top seed locked up.
The teams met on Aug. 24 in Gulfport, with Admirals taking a 33-28 victory.
“Our kids have grown up a lot,” Petal head coach Marcus Boyles said. “We had a lot of new faces at the beginning of the year and it was a tough schedule, but our kids fought through it and believed in what we were doing and I’m just super proud of them.
“We’ve got a lot of momentum going in, and we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now. We’ve got to go back to Gulfport, and they’ve got a really fine team. We’re going to have our hands full next Friday night, but we’re glad to be in the playoffs and looking forward to it.”
Terry coach J.J. Plummer said he was not surprised that the Panthers had regrouped down the stretch of the season.
“I think Petal’s got a chance to go deep in the playoffs again,” Plummer said. “They’ve been improving every week. They’ve got one of the best coaching staffs in the state of Mississippi. Marcus Is going to have that team ready to go in the first round next week.”
Petal was certainly ready to go Thursday night, jumping on the Bulldogs (5-7, 1-6) from the start.
In fact, the Panthers scored the first times they had the football, taking a 35-0 lead early in the third quarter.
Nicholson was a big part of the bludgeoning.
The junior connected on his first 11 passes before a drop broke a streak that included touchdown passes of 40 yards to senior Trent Williams and 33 yards to senior Zy Magee.
A 4-yard touchdown run by junior Micah McGowan lifted the Panthers into 21-0 lead, before Nicholson followed his incompletion with a 13-yard pass to junior Treylan Smith before a 27-yard scoring pass to Williams for a 28-0 halftime lead.
Petal made it 35-0 on its first offensive snap of the third quarter. A botched punt snap set up the Panthers at the Bulldogs’ 27-yard line, and senior J’lin Jones shimmied his way through the middle of Terry’s defense for the score.
Another special team’s gaffe, a shanked, 15-yard punt, set the Panthers up at the Bulldogs’ 30-yard line. Three plays later, senior Semaj Silas scored on a 6-yard run.
Terry, which completed just six passes for 88 yards, completed two for 53 yards on a fourth-quarter drive that junior Marco Baker capped with a 12-yard touchdown run as Terry avoided the shutout.