PETAL, Miss. (WDAM) _ For much of the first half Saturday night at Panther Field, Hattiesburg and Petal high schools found themselves in a nip-and-tuck tussle.
A missed field goal. A frantic, three-play, 80-yard march to beat the first-half clock. A score coming out of the second half followed by another score after a fumbled kickoff.
In a span of 3 minutes, 12 seconds, a 7-7 football game suddenly became a lopsided 26-7 scoreboard favoring the home team.
Down three scores, not only could Hattiesburg not score enough let alone quickly to get itself back in the game, but Petal never let up, adding another 13 points to the tally in taking an eventual 38-15 victory over their Forrest County rivals.
The Panthers topped the Tigers in the Leaf River Catfight for the first time since 2016.
“A gigantic win for us,” Petal coach Marcus Boyles said. “It’s a big rivalry. Hattiesburg’s a great program and Tony definitely does a great job, so to get a win against a quality opponent, definitely pleased.”
The teams found themselves tied until late in the second quarter.
Hattiesburg opened the scoring on a 73-yard run by Rhyen Briscoe to take a 7-0 lead after the first quarter. But Petal tied the game early in the second period on a 1-yard run by Micah McGowan.
Late in the second quarter, the Tigers drove into field goal range, only to see the kick miss.
That set up Petal at the Hattiesburg 20-yard line with less than a minute left to play in the first half.
But the other half of the Panthers’ one-two backfield punch, Rashad Handford, ripped off runs of 29 yards and 38 yards to set up Petal at the Tigers’ 13-yard line.
DeCarlos Nicholson then found McGowan with a touchdown pass with 8 seconds left in the half.
“That was a huge momentum (swing) right there,” Boyles said. “Our defense held and gave us a chance to go straight on down the field. I thought that was a big swing of momentum.
“And then, coming out in the second half, I felt like we had found our footing in the second quarter, and were able to get some things done in the second half.”
The Panthers took the second-half kickoff down the field for a score, with Hanford slashing his way into the end zone from 9 yards out.
Hattiesburg fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, giving the Panthers a short field, and Petal cashed in when Kadaris Hicks gained the edge with a Nicholson swing pass and outran the Tigers down the sideline for a 40-yard touchdown.
Many folks were just returning from a halftime concession stand trip to see a seven-point lead balloon to three scores.
“First half, I thought we played well, did some things well,” Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance said. “The second half, we did some things to shoot ourselves in the foot. There’s just not a whole lot to say.
“This was game one, but we have to be better. Point blank. Period. We have to do a better job. “
Petal tacked on a 28-yard field goal by Nate Jones and got a safety to take a 31-7 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Hattiesburg got with two scores with less than three minutes to play when Brisoce went 30 yards for a touchdown with a Christon Jenkins.
When J.J. Powell found Kyler Scott with a2-point conversion pass, the Tigers were within 16 points.
But Hezekiah Miller chilled whatever possible thoughts of a continuing rally by dashing for a 63-yard touchdown run.
Petal (1-0) will travel to Harrison Central High School at 7 p.m. Friday in Gulfport. The Red Devils (1-0) took down East Central High School Friday 21-14.
“We told our kids, ‘Hey, enjoy it this weekend, but come in Monday morning and let’s get focused on Harrison Central,’” Boyles said.
Hattiesburg (0-1) will north to meet Laurel High School at 7 p.m. Friday “Between the Bricks” at Blair Stadium in the annual renewal of the Battle for the Lil’ Brown Jug. The Tornadoes (1-0) rallied for a 21-14 victory at Poplarville High School.
“We’ve got to learn to play a lot better, a lot harder, but we’ll be fine,” Vance said. “I’m not worried about this football team. This football team will be fine. We’ll do the things that we need to do to get better. We’ll fix the things we need to fix and we’ll move on.”