After a day full of rain and a muddy and slippery playing football surface at Crumpton Field Thursday night, Coahoma County and West Tallahatchie had 10 combined lost fumbles.
The Red Panthers, with a playoff berth on the line, had just two completed passes for positive yardage. They would not let that stop them as both of those passes were touchdowns. The final touchdown pass came from sophomore quarterback Lamont Lee, who lost one fumble, to senior running back Alshun Ross, who lost two fumbles for a 25-yard touchdown with 59 seconds remaining.
The score capped a 63-yard drive, enabled Coahoma County to erase a two-point deficit and defeat West Tallahatchie 20-14 and advance to the postseason.
“I just believed in my team,” Ross said about catching the game-winning touchdown. “The coaching staff, I want to thank them for not letting up on us and we kept fighting and I love my team for.
“The DL and the safety, they came down. They didn’t even stay back where they were supposed to have been. They didn’t do any reading. They just came straight in for a running play and I read my fly and I was wide open.”
Senior running back Dewayne Rucker praised his teammates and coach Mario Lane.
“I’m just glad coach made that call at the right time,” Rucker said. “He made a good call at the right time. That was a good call by coach and a good catch by Alshun.”
Rucker and other running backs carrying the offensive load for most of the night helped create the opening for Ross.
“We do everything as a team,” Rucker said. “We take it as a team. We win as a team. We lose as a team. We just felt this was a game we could win. We never gave up. We kept fighting.”
The weather conditions factored into the Red Panthers calling few pass plays.
“We couldn’t throw the ball like we wanted to and have a balanced attack, but when we did throw the ball, we just wanted to make them count,” Lane said.
The Red Panthers (3-8, 3-3) finished No. 3 in Region 3-2A and will be at the No. 2 team in Region 2-2A, Eupora (6-4, 1-2), at 7 p.m. Friday for the first round of the postseason. These same two teams played in the first round of the playoffs at Eupora in 2012 with the Eagles winning 49-0.
CCHS climbed from the No. 4 to the No. 3 spot in Region 3-2A with South Delta defeating Leland 28-12 and Riverside defeating West Bolivar 14-0. O’Bannon is the district champion, South Delta is the No. 2 team and Riverside earned the fourth and final spot.
Lane is in his first season as the Red Panthers coach and they started the season 1-8. They are now riding a two-game winning streak going into the playoffs thanks to a 31-7 win against West Bolivar at Coahoma Community College last week at the 20-14 victory against West Tallahatchie.
“I thank the guys,” Lane said. “They just kind of stayed together. They come every day and they work at it. I tell them good things don’t come immediately. You just have to continue to work. No matter what the outcome is, there’s always tomorrow and, as long as there’s tomorrow, you’ve got a chance to get better. You’ve got to come prepare yourself to get better every day. I think they’re getting better later on in the season.”
The winless Choctaws (0-11, 0-6) had nothing to play for Thursday night, but they erased a 12-0 deficit and took a 14-12 lead with 43 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Freshman Jalen Madden had an 11-yard touchdown run for West Tallahatchie to give his team the lead in the third quarter, while eighth-grader Kentarius Huddleston had a 20-yard touchdown run with 19 seconds to play in the first half.
“Very strong effort there at the end,” Choctaws coach Lorenzo Pimpton said. “What we’ve got to do is come back next season to the drawing board and work hard because a lot of people don’t realize all skill players are young players on this team. What we’re going to do is we’re just going to get ourselves together and keep continuing to work hard in the offseason. We’ll be back.”
The turnovers were part of the reason neither side was able to pull away.
Ross lost his first fumble that was recovered by Choctaws senior defensive tackle Corderian Jones at the West Tallahatchie 31 with 7:50 remaining in the first quarter.
West Tallahatchie junior Quardero Gipson lost a fumble six plays later that CCHS senior Roderick Hollins recovered at the Red Panthers 37. Senior Donald Morris was forced to punt three plays later for the Red Panthers giving the Choctaws possession at their own 26.
That set up a Gipson fumble recovered by Red Panthers junior linebacker and running back Clintavious Davis at the West Tallahatchie 20 with 1:58 remaining in the first quarter.
Hollins and Davis had two fumble recoveries apiece.
Davis’ fumble recovery set up a Ross 3-yard touchdown run with 43 seconds to play in the first quarter. That put Coahoma County ahead 6-0.
Three lost fumbles came in a span of one minute and five seconds during the early part of the second quarter.
Gipson lost a fumble recovered by Red Panthers senior Kendrick McCray. Lee lost a fumble back to the Choctaws the very next play.
Then, Red Panthers senior Jeffery Fisher recovered a fumble at the Choctaws 27 with 8:59 to play in the first half.
Lee capitalized with a 27-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Markevius Phillips the very next play to extend CCHS’s lead to 12-0.
Davis recovered his second fumble on a botched pitchout by the Choctaws that gave the Red Panthers possession at the West Tallahatchie 27-yard-line with 8:11 remaining in the first half. CCHS turned the ball over on downs and could not capitalize. Choctaws senior Brandon Firrow sacked Lee during the time CCHS had possession.
Fumbles continued during the second half.
Red Panthers sophomore Eddie Henderson recovered a fumble by West Tallahatchie sophomore Martavious Newell with 7:11 remaining in the third quarter. CCHS was in the red zone, but turned it over on downs.
Ross lost a fumble recovered by Choctaws sophomore defensive back Atrayviontay Clark at the West Tallahatchie 48 with 11:51 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Choctaws led 14-12 at the time.
Hollins recovered a Gipson fumble at the CCHS 37 with 9:17 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Red Panthers final possession to win the game resulted from a Choctaws punt, not a turnover.
“I think the weather had a lot to do with it on both sides of the ball,” Lane said of the turnovers. “We had a lot of turnovers. Sloppy play tonight on both sides. I think that if it was a better weather condition day, we probably wouldn’t have a lot of turnovers. It would have been different play on the field.”
“It just came down to who had the last possession with the clock running down like it was,” he said. “Other than that, both of us had our share of turnovers. You can’t whine about the turnovers. You’ve just got to hold on to the ball. We had an opportunity to put them away. We just made a few mistakes. We’re just going to continue to work and get better. These are young kids and we’ve just got to continue to work with them. Kids make mistakes. We had a lot of player errors.
“The weather is not a factor because both are playing in the same conditions so we’re not going to use the weather as an excuse.”
Lane said his team will have to step it up even more against the Eagles next week.
“We’ve got to improve,” he said. “We’re going to have to tackle better and we’re going to have to eliminate a lot of mistakes and be able to capitalize when folks give us an opportunity.
“Whatever it takes to win, whatever is in the bag got to come out.”
“We’ve got to do even better,” he said. “We’ve got to come out harder every week and we’ve just got to keep fighting and don’t give up. I want to thank the coaches for doing all the play calling for us.”
West Tallahatchie 0 8 6 0-14
at Coahoma County 6 6 0 8-20
CC – Alshun Ross, 3-yard run (2-point conversion fails), 0:43, Red Panthers 6-0
CC – Markevius Phillips, 27-yard pass from Lamont Lee (2-point conversion fails), 8:44, Red Panthers 12-0
WT – Kentarius Huddleston, 20-yard run (2-point conversion Quardero Gipson), 0:19, Red Panthers 12-8
WT – Jalen Madden, 11-yard run (2-point conversion fails), 0:43, Choctaws 14-12
CC – Alshun Ross, 25-yard pass from Lamont Lee (2-point conversion Lee), 0:59, Red Panthers 20-14