SOSO – It looked to all the world like West Jones‘ 16-game winning streak at home was doomed.
Petal had just taken a 31-14 lead with 1:12 to go in the third quarter, and the Panthers were looking to close out the game with a couple of defensive stops.
They never got one.
Having taken Panthers’ best shot, senior quarterback Alan Follis and the fifth-ranked Mustangs got off the deck and erased a 17-point deficit to win 34-31.
“All we wanted was a chance,” Follis said. “I knew if we got one – even though we were down – we could fight back.”
And fight back they did.
The Mustangs responded with a 12-play, 79-yard drive that Follis capped with an 8-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Marion Lindsey. That cut the Petal lead to 31-21 with a little more than nine minutes left in the game.
A bad snap put the Panthers behind the chains on the ensuing possession, and they still flipped the field with a good punt and pinned West Jones back at their own 15-yard line with 4:59 to go.
It took the Mustangs just eight plays to go 85 yards. Follis completed 4 of his 5 passes for 75 yards on the drive, including the 18-yard scoring pass to senior Cedric Bender.
The Mustangs needed one more defensive stop, and they got it moments later when Petal put the ball on the ground following another miscue on a shotgun snap. Sophomore Jonathan Keys was the guy in the right place at the right time for the recovery, which set the Mustangs up 1st-and-10 at the Petal 24-yard line with 3:25 left on the clock.
West Jones scored the go-ahead touchdown five plays later on Josh McDonald’s 5-yard run.
Petal got the ball back with a little more than two minutes to go, and drove it from their own 32-yard line to the West Jones’ 24, but the potential game-tying, 37-yard field goal attempt missed low.
The West Jones crowd went nuts.
“It’s all about our kids,” West Jones coach Scott Pierson said. “And our kids believe they can no matter what the score is and no matter what is going on in the game. They’ve proved it over the past three years. We had a chance to really lay down in the second half and we never did.”
Follis was phenomenal. The 6-foot-1 senior completed 20 of his 30 pass attempts for 285 yards with three passing touchdowns and one interception. He was at his best when West Jones needed it most – completing 14 of 19 passes following the interception, which came early in the third quarter.
That pick was West Jones’ fifth turnover of the game, and they almost didn’t overcome it. The Mustangs turned the ball over on downs on their first possession, put the ball on the ground on their second and lost two fumbles on muffed kickoff receptions in the second quarter.
Petal built it’s big lead on the arm of its star quarterback Jackson Allen. He put the Panthers on the board with a 74-yard touchdown pass to Jeremiah Robinson just two minutes into the second quarter.
The West Jones defense held in the red zone after a quick fumble, and Petal added three points on a 25-yard field goal off the foot of junior Nate Jones.
Again West Jones fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Petal (2-1) marched 61 yards in nine plays. They led 17-0 after Robinson’s 3-yard touchdown run with 3:24 left in the first half.
Allen was brilliant in defeat, completing 20 of 38 passes for 358 yards with two touchdowns.
But, as Petal coach Marcus Boyles pointed out, the Panthers underperformed for the third week in a row in the second half.
“We – the coaches and the team – just have to get better,” he said.
As for West Jones, the The Mustangs (3-0) open Region 3 play next week at Brookhaven. But they’ll worry about that when the celebration over Friday’s win ends, which didn’t look like it was going to be any time soon.
“This is a huge win,” Follis said. “You know, they’re 6A and we’re 5A. Everyone wants to see a 6A power and a 5A power go head to head, and I think we proved tonight that in 5A, we can play football.”