By Austin Bishop
The Choctaw Plaindealer
After watching Lumberton High School on film all week, French Camp Academy head coach Nathan Wright went into Friday night’s MHSAA Class 1A State Playoff contest expecting a lot of speed.
That’s what he got, it just didn’t come from where he expected. It was Wright’s Panthers that broke three long running plays for touchdown and seemed to pull away in the open field as they took a 30-20 home win.
“That was one of the things we were surprised about,” Wright said. “We talked about all of their speed guys and how fast they were. But Jesse (Hosket) outran them.”
Hosket, known more for his strong arm at quarterback and hard hitting at linebacker than for his feet, broke loose for a 57-yard touchdown run on French Camp’s second play from scrimmage to give the home team a quick 9-0 lead.
French Camp, now 9-5 on the season, never trailed in the game and led by as many as 16 points in the fourth quarter as they earned a spot in the MHSAA Class 1A South State Championship Game against Stringer on Friday night. The Panthers will visit the Red Devils at 7 p.m. on Friday night. It was Stringer who defeated FCA 20-17 in the 2012 State title game.
“We saw them going up and down the field against Noxapater,” Wright said of the Lumberton Panthers. “We didn’t know how good they were or whether or not we could tackle them.”
Tackle them, FCA certainly did.
French Camp held the power running game of Lumberton to just 79 yards on 38 carries and limited the visitors to 149 yards of total offense.
“We got some licks on them,” Wright said. “I think our guys wanted to hit and they did hit. Even some of our little safeties were running up there and getting physical. Our kids love to play defense and love to hit people.”
FCA took a quick 2-0 lead in the game when the Lumberton long snapper sent the ball sailing over the punter’s head and out of the end zone with just over two minutes left in the game. Two plays later Hosket broke loose for his 57-yard touchdown run. Sam Gould’s extra point put the winners up 9-0 with 9:22 left in the first quarter.
Lumberton put together its best drive of the night in response, moving 64 yards on 12 carries to score on a 6-yard run by Jatarrian Clark, who also ran in the two-point conversion to cut the FCA lead to 9-8.
The homestanding Panthers stretched their lead back out to 16-8 with 8:26 left in the first half when Hosket hit Cole Henson with a 7-yard scoring strike.
After a scoreless third quarter, the FCA Panthers went ahead by two touchdowns when Hagan Box broke loose for a 49-yard touchdown run with 11:03 left to play in the game to put the winners up 23-6.
Lumberton answered by scoring on a 1-yard run by Joe Arnold to cut it to 23-14 with 7:50 left in the game, but French Camp stopped the visitors short on their two-point conversion attempt.
Three plays later FCA countered with a 58-yard scoring run by Michael Erving and another Gould kick to go up 30-14.
But while the French Camp fans were still celebrating the touchdown and what looked like a sure victory, Lumberton’s Daylon Burks returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown to cut it to 30-20. Lumberton again went for the two-point conversion, which could have cut FCA’s advantage to a one-possession lead with 5:45 to play in the game. However the French Camp defense answered the call and once against stopped Lumberton short on the conversion.
“I kept hollering at them ‘This is big, this is big, we have to stop this,’” Wright said of his communication with his defense. “Every time we thought we were about to put it away, something would happen.”
Hosket finished the night with 62 rushing yards on 14 attempts, while also hitting on 4-of-9 passes for 53 yards. Erving led FCA with 70 rushing yards on four carries, while Box had four attempts on 52 yards. Box, Corrie Witt, Hunter McKnight and Henson each had a pass reception for the winners.