French Camp Panthers win moves closer to playoff action

Ruthie Robison The Choctaw Plaindealer

The French Camp Panthers made a big statement last Friday night with a 16-14 win over the Shaw Hawks in a Class 1A, Region 2, District 3 matchup.

In last seasons’ battle, the Hawks grabbed a close 12-6 decision over the Panthers. However this season, after an open week, the well rested Panthers clinched a come-from-behind victory over last year’s 1A North Champions. The Panthers’ win proves that they are a contender in 1A playoff action this season.

“[Shaw] played for State last year and I think they’re a little better this year than they were last year so obviously it’s big for us and hopefully it won’t swell our heads,” said Panther head coach Nathan Wright. “[This win] certainly makes us understand we’re good enough to [look forward to the playoffs] if we just do the things we need to do and keep our character right.”

With French Camp hosting Shaw, the Hawks quickly scored in the first quarter on their first possession of the game.

Quarterback Andre Pruitt capped off the Hawk drive with a touchdown run from eight yards out. Pruitt added the extra point taking a 7-0 advantage over the Panthers.

Senior running back Jaylon Clemons ran deep into Hawk territory with the kickoff return setting up a perfect opportunity for the Panthers to score. A couple of plays later, with 6:51 left in the first quarter, Junior kicker Sam Gould made a 22-yard field goal cutting away at the Hawk’s lead, 7-3.

With the Panther defense forcing a three-and-out possession for the Hawks, French Camp began moving the ball down the field. After several unproductive plays over the span of four minutes, the Panthers turned to Gould once again. With a little over a minute left in the first quarter, Gould completed a successful 39-yard field goal attempt putting French Camp in close range behind Shaw, 7-6.

With both the Shaw and Panther defenses on high alert, the second quarter was scoreless.

After halftime, both the Panthers and Hawks were unable to produce points with each first possessions of the third quarter. However, Hagan Box, with a 15-yard gain punt return, set up an opportunity for French Camp to catch up with Shaw. Four plays later, Clemons rumbled three yards for the touchdown. Gould added the extra point giving the Panthers a 13-7 lead over the Hawks.

The game intensified in the fourth quarter. With the Panthers in the red zone, Shaw caught a break with an interception in their own territory. However, the Panthers grabbed the loose ball from the Hawks on the next play.

With tension high and French Camp just a few yards away from the end zone, the Panthers fumbled with Shaw gaining the ball once more. On the next play, Pruitt took off with an 85-yard dash to the end zone. After the extra point, Shaw had a one-point lead over French Camp with 9:23 left in the game.

The Panthers would answer back later in the fourth quarter. With 3:53 left in the game, Gould put his team ahead with a 28-yard field goal. The Panthers obtained a 16-14 edge over Hawks.

The French Camp defense protected their two-point lead in the final minutes of the game claiming another division play win this season.

“We worked hard to try and stop their veer game. They still broke a couple of big runs on us, but overall we just played really hard and we’re proud,” said Wright. “We had a couple of let downs we usually don’t make that resulted in big plays [for Shaw] but we’re proud we had the character to come back from 7-0 and redeem ourselves.”

On the offensive side of the ball, Clemons led the rushing attack with 22 carries on 81 yards and one touchdown. Box followed with 11 carries on 25 yards while quarterback Jesse Hosket had nine carries on 15 yards.

Hosket went 2-8 through the air on 30 yards.

Ben Hosket and Cole Henson had one reception for 15 yards each during the game.

On the defensive side of the ball, Daniel Hughes led with 14 stops. B. Hosket followed with 12 while Cortez Johnson had 10 stops and a sack. Dylan Dickey had nine stops.

Gould added a total of 10 points to the Panthers score and has a earned 39 points this season for French Camp through points-after- touchdown and field goals.

Wright noted that Gould making good kicks, Clemons coming up with big gains on kickoff returns and hard work overall was the Panthers’ combination for success during the game.

The Panthers now have a 3-2 overall record and are 2-0 in district play.

This Friday French Camp will host another division showdown against the Ray Brooks Tigers. The Tigers are 1-4 overall and 1-0 in division play. Ray Brooks will enter the game after an open week and were recently defeated by Class 2A Broad Street, 30-0.

This will be the last game of the season with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.