PETAL – It wasn’t a thing of beauty – in fact, at times it was downright ugly – but the result looked pretty good to Petal.
The Panthers opened the Aaron Glenn era on a positive note, outlasting Hattiesburg 16-10 in overtime Friday night at Panther Stadium.
Junior Ryan Poole scored the game-winning touchdown on a 10-yard run one play after the Petal defense snuffed out the Tigers’ possession with an interception by senior linebacker Zion Edwards.
“I felt like this was the game of the week in the Pine Belt, and I think everyone in the Pine Belt was here tonight,” said Glenn, who took over as the Panthers coach after the retirement of Marcus Boyles. “I thought we put on a show for them.”
The game was what one might have expected from two teams with loads of young players on offense that expect to lean on their defenses in the early part of the season.
“We made too many mistakes, too many negative plays, turnovers, penalties” said Hattiesburg coach Tony Vance. “I’m super proud of the effort my guys had. They didn’t quit and kept battling. We’ll build on that and move forward.”
It was the Panthers who broke through with a big play for the first score of the night, an 83-yard strike from sophomore quarterback Cayden Burger to Trey Thoms. Nate Jones converted the PAT kick for a 7-0 lead.
And that’s how it stayed, as the two defenses took turns landing haymakers on the opposing offenses.
Petal’s defense stood tall late in the third quarter, thwarting the Tigers’ best drive up to that point at the goal line, when the Panthers stuffed a running play at the 1-yard line.
“Over the summer, we really came together as a defense,” said Edwards. “We’ve got a lot of experience on that side of the ball. We love being the most physical team on the field.
However, the Hattiesburg defense rose up as the fourth quarter began, snuffing Poole for no game, then hemmed him up in the end zone for a safety.
The Tigers appeared to have momentum, but a lost fumble after the free kick gave Petal the chance to move into position for a 36-yard field goal by Jones.
Hattiesburg would not be denied, though, scoring on a 43-yard drive after senior Jack Jackson took the kickoff 51 yards.
It took eight plays, but Tavares Wade got Hattiesburg in the end zone on a 27-yard pass to Jackson. Senior John Weathersby powered over the middle for the conversion and a 10-10 tie.
“I said all year that we’re going to play two quarterbacks,” said Vance, who alternated between Wade and Tony Vance II at the position. “Whichever one has the hot hand; we’re going to roll with it.
Wade came in and did some really good things for us, but we’ve got to be better on offense.”
Hattiesburg had a golden opportunity for a go-ahead score after senior safety Kameron Hopson swiped a pass at the Petal 33, but the Tigers gave the ball right back on a fumble inside the 10-yard line.
“(The defense) carried us,” said Glenn. “They kept us in the game and forced turnovers. Our defensive front was awesome tonight. The kids played so hard, and that’s all you can ask for. Our goal is to go 1-0 each week, and we were able to go 1-0 tonight.”
And the Panthers got the job done in overtime. A loss of a yard and a fumble for a 6-yard loss forced the Tigers into a passing situation, and Edwards was in the right spot to pick off the pass in the end zone.
“They lined up to my side of the field, with two receivers,” said Edwards. “And I knew they were going to run that little skinny post on the outside. So, I got my read and dropped into coverage. Trey (Smith) did a great job of tipping it up for me.”
On the next play, Poole swept around left end and beat the defense to the pylon for the score that ended the game.
“I do my job running the ball; that’s just how it works,” said Poole. “It was incredible. Me and my linemen talked about it, and they said they were going to block it down for me. They did their job, I did mine.”
Poole was indeed the workhorse for Petal, running 28 times for 92 hard-won yards. In all, Petal totaled 183 yards against the tough Tiger defense.
“He’s the workhorse for us,” said Glenn. “He grinds in the weight room; he’s a workout warrior in there. He’s a guy you can hand it to a bunch of times. He took a lot of body blows, but at the end, we wanted the ball in his hands.”
For Hattiesburg, Wade had a breakout game, running 20 times for 163 yards.
Petal is scheduled to play at home next week, against Brookhaven, while Hattiesburg goes on the road to face Ocean Springs.