By Austin Bishop
The Choctaw Plaindealer
In a game that featured a combined 900 yards of total offense and 91 points, it was defense that made the difference as French Camp shut out homestanding Stringer in the second half on Friday night to win the MHSAA Class 1A South State Championship 56-35.
Nobody was more surprised by the 35-35 halftime score than FCA head coach Nathan Wright.
“I thought it was going to be a defensive knock-down, drag-out,” Wright said of his halftime conversation with his team. “I said ‘guys this is looking like a JUCO game and I don’t like JUCO. I like defense.’”
Stringer senior quarterback Tevin Moore torched the FCA defense for 183 yards and four touchdowns on just eight carries in the first half and also connected on a deflected touchdown pass of 32 yards with 5.3 seconds left.
“Coach addressed that and made sure the corners were ready to come up and be ready for that (Moore getting on the outside),” said FCA senior defensive back Hunter McKnight. “It was a big change and we were able to actually stop it. Coach just talked to us and told us what things we were needing to change and we thought about it and we knew we could play better.”
The second half saw the Panthers limit Moore to just 34 yards on 10 carries, before he broke free for a 25-yard gain on the last play of the game to finish with a game-high 242 yards on 19 attempts
“When our guys buckle down and get it figured out, they can play. And they did that in the second half,” Wright said. “We managed to contain (No.) 10 except for that last play.”
“The second half we got physical with them,” said FCA quarterback/linebacker Jesse Hosket. “That was the difference in the game, when we started to get physical. I wouldn’t have believed we were going to shut them out (in the second half), but the defense played well and of course they helped us with the turnovers.”
After a scoreless third quarter the Panthers, now 10-5 on the season, hung up 21 fourth-quarter points to earn their second consecutive trip to Jackson for the MHSAA Class 1A State Championship Game. The Panthers will take on North Champion Smithville at 11 a.m. Friday at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.
FCA represented the North last season, dropping a 20-17 decision to Stringer in the title game, a memory that wasn’t lost on the Panthers as they celebrated their victory over the Red Devils on Friday night.
“It makes it all the more special,” McKnight said of reaching the title game and getting revenge against Stringer at the same time. “We were talking the the other day and my grandmother said she was hoping Hinds AHS would beat Stringer (in the playoffs), but I told her that we wanted Stringer to win. That’s who we wanted to play.”
While Moore certainly had a big game for the Red Devils, who ended the season at 12-2, the Panthers had a couple big offensive performances as well. Hosket hit on 16-of-21 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for 94 yards and four touchdowns on 20 carries. Michael Erving led FCS in rushing with 148 yards and three touchdowns on 14 attempts.
The first quarter saw both teams score on each of its two possessions, with Stringer scoring on runs of 17 and 63 by Moore and French Camp getting on the scoreboard on runs of 1 yard by Hosket and 23 yards by Erving.
Following one of Stringer’s three lost fumbles on the night — this one recovered by Douglas Hughes — the Panthers took a 20-14 lead on a 32-yard run by Erving with 10:20 left in the first half. Just 13 seconds later Stringer retook the lead on a 70-yard scamper by Moore to go up 21-20.
French Camp countered with 8:02 left in the half on a 53-yard pass from Hosket to Hunter McKnight and a two-point conversion run by Hosket to go up 28-21 and never trailed again.
After Stringer’s Moore scored on a 24-yard run and Hosket scored on a 2-yard plunge for FCA, the Red Devils managed to tie the game with 5.3 seconds left before intermission when a Panther defender tipped a desperation heave by Moore and it was grabbed by Aldridge who stumbled backwards into the end zone for a touchdown.
After a physical third quarter changed the tone of the game, the Panthers put the win away with fourth quarter touchdown runs of 2 and 6 yards by Hosket and a 20-yard scoring jaunt by Erving.
“It’s a great feeling,” said junior lineman Matthew Castle. “Winning North and South in back-to-back years — I can’t describe it.”
“We just came out and did what we knew we could do and put it all together in the second half,” said FCA defensive tackle Jevante McAdory. “We always thing we have a chance to win, even when we are down.”
The Panthers are looking for a better result from their season-ending trip to Jackson this time around.
“I think we have more motivation (this year),” Castle said. “We have been there before. It was a little overwhelming for us (last year) and was a new experience for all of us because we had never been down there before. But I think this year it’s going to be different.”
“I’m not ready to celebrate,” Hosket said following his team’s win over the Red Devils. “I’m ready to finish the deal and I know the rest of the team and the coaches will be ready too.”