HOLLY SPRINGS — The conditions were soggy for both teams, but Panther Creek’s superior job at holding onto the football is the reason why it came away with a 27-0 victory at Holly Springs on Friday night.
In a battle for second place in the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference, the game came down to field position and fumbles.
Holly Springs (5-5, 4-2) lost five of its 12 fumbles, while Panther Creek didn’t lose either of its two fumbles. And as the turnovers mounted, Panther Creek kept getting excellent field position.
The Catamounts (8-2, 5-1) started just one drive inside its own 40 – the opening kickoff.
“Our kickers and our coverage team were doing an excellent job,” Catamounts coach Sean Crocker said. “They were starting inside the 10, the 15, the 5. I think we got it down to the 1 one time.”
Meanwhile, Holly Springs’ only drive that started outside of its own 20 came on a kickoff out of bounds.
“When they’re trying to get out of the shadow of their own end zone, it limits what they can do,” Crocker said.
Two of Panther Creek’s first-quarter drives ended in 39-yard touchdown passes. Brenden Magner found Alec Slusser on a go- route down the sideline on his first, then Tre Sullivan did most of the work after catching a screen pass on the second.
The Catamounts led 14-0 at halftime.
“Our defensive coordinator (Anthony Sullivan) was telling us before the game it’s kind of like one of those football movies where the biggest game in the world is always rainy,” Panther Creek defensive lineman J.T. Wise said. “When we got out there and it was pouring, we were all hyped up. I don’t know that any of us had ever played in this kind of rain before.”
The first plays of the second half maintained the fumble/field position theme. Holly Springs muffed the kickoff, and Panther Creek recovered on the 34.
The next play was a 34-yard touchdown run from Dorrel McClain.
At the end of its next drive, Holly Springs fumbled the snap on a punt and had to fall on the loose ball, allowing Panther Creek to take over at the 9. Three plays later, McClain had a 5-yard touchdown run.
It was the third Panther Creek shutout this season and first in the conference.
“I’ve never seen the entire sideline be so into a game before,” Wise said. “Every time the ball hit the ground they were yelling ‘ball’ or ‘fumble’ and it was pretty cool.”
Panther Creek’s win means the SWAC playoff seeds are set. With Middle Creek locking up the first seed with its 14-0 win at Cary, Panther Creek will be the second seed and Holly Springs the third.
Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps