APEX — Other than playing on a different day, things played out eerily similar to the way this season has gone for Middle Creek and Panther Creek on Saturday afternoon. Mistakes came back to haunt Panther Creek, and Middle Creek’s offense came up big as it held on for a 35-26, over its rival and former head coach, Sean Crocker.
The game started on Friday night, but lightning caused officials to postpone the game with 8:01 remaining. Already up 7-0 after a touchdown pass from David Salmon to Jay Schuller, Middle Creek picked up right where it left off, scoring on its first two drives of the day to take a 21-0 lead heading into the second quarter.
According to first-year Middle Creek (6-1) head coach Mike Castellano, his team’s big start wasn’t as seamless as it may have appeared.
“We didn’t show up focused this morning, then we refocused,” Castellano said.
With their backs against the wall, Panther Creek (1-6) responded with a huge second quarter, scoring three touchdowns including a 49-yard strike from Brendan Magner to Andre Payne. The bigger story, however, was the points Panther Creek left on the table. A missed extra point after Dorrel McClain’s 20-yard touchdown run on Panther Creek’s first possession of the second quarter proved to be crucial later.
Panther Creek trailed 28-20 heading into halftime and Crocker was happy that his team stayed in the game.
“We told our guys that we were doing things to beat ourselves. We told them to stick with the gameplan,” Crocker said. “These young people kept their head down, kept working and we clawed our way back into it.”
After a scoreless third quarter, the fourth had plenty of drama.
After Middle Creek failed to score following a Jacob Pearl interception deep in its own territory, Panther Creek marched down the field on an 80-yard, 12-play drive that culminated in a two-yard touchdown run by David Mayaka.
Because of the missed extra point from the second quarter, Panther Creek was forced to go for two and came up short as Magner was stopped in the backfield, leaving his team trailing 28-26 with just under six minutes remaining.
Crocker admitted that the outcome of the game might have been different had his team not been forced to go for two points.
“Anytime you have a miscue in the special teams game, it usually comes back to bite you,” he said. “It plays big in the outcome of the game, but that’s football.”
Panther Creek saw yet another potential chance at a comeback fall just short as Middle Creek lineman Brian Hughes fell on top of a fumble that could have given Panther Creek another possession with under three minutes remaining. Instead, Panther Creek sealed the game two plays later on a 15-quarterback keeper from Salmon.
“We had a young man make a heck of a play,” Castellano said of Hughes’ fumble recovery. “He ran as hard as he could at 300 pounds to get that ball back for his teamates. I thought it really energized the rest of our guys to get the first down to put the game away.”