Marcus Farmer and Kemario Evans can see the finished product.
In their minds, the West Lowndes High School football team is almost there. To Evans, the Panthers are a work in progress that is 75 percent completed. Seven games into the season, though, penalties and self-inflicted mistakes continue to hamper the Panthers’ ability to reach 100 percent.
Those miscues popped up again at the most inopportune times Friday night and played a key role in West Lowndes’ 30-20 loss to Heritage Academy in the third installment of the Lowndes County Mississippi High School Activities Association-Mississippi Association of Independent Schools series.
The loss was West Lowndes’ third in a row to Heritage Academy. It also snapped the Panthers’ four-game winning streak and ended the Patriots’ three-game slide.
“It was bad calls and bad decisions and players getting frustrated,” West Lowndes junior wide receiver Marcus Farmer said. “(The mistakes) are hurting us bad because we are getting more than 100 yards in penalties every game. We are going to have to do better.”
West Lowndes appeared to have snatched the momentum after it capitalized on a turnover. Trailing 9-8 in the third quarter, West Lowndes’ Tedarrious Barr was in the right place at the right time to catch a fumbled exchange between Heritage Academy running back Dontae Gray and wide receiver Zach Oswalt. Barr caught the ball and raced 21 yards untouched for a touchdown that gave West Lowndes a 14-9 advantage.
But Heritage Academy (3-4) responded with back-to-back scores to seize control. West Lowndes had at least one penalty on each of Heritage Academy’s final three touchdowns. It committed two penalties that gave the Patriots first downs on the drive for a second score that extended the deficit to 24-14.
“We have to practice more on technique and know what we have to do and not be in positions where we can get a flag,” Evans said.
While the setback was disappointing, West Lowndes coach Anthony King can take solace in the fact his team played Heritage Academy close without running backs Syboris Pippin and Jerry Anderson. Unfortunately, running back Zacchaeus Williams left the game in the second quarter with an injury. Starting quarterback Quinshawn Lucious also was banged up and played limited minutes in the second half. Evans took over at quarterback in the fourth quarter and led the Panthers on a seven-play, 82-yard drive that took only 1 minute, 49 seconds. Evans’ 7-yard touchdown run cut the Patriots’ lead to 24-20 with 4:06 remaining. Unfortunately, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on West Lowndes helped give Heritage Academy great field position on its next drive. The Patriots needed only three plays before Michael Ledbetter ran around left end for a 30-yard touchdown that sealed the deal.
“We had too many silly fouls that were our own doing,” said King, whose team was penalized 13 times for 122 yards. “Guys weren’t concentrating. We are just so beat up. We have different guys plugged in and things just didn’t go right. Heritage is a good team. … It just wasn’t our night tonight.”
King credited Evans for providing a spark in the second half. He said the Panthers still are juggling Lucious and Evans at quarterback and trying to find the pieces to surround them. With Pippin and Anderson out, King said earlier in the week he planned to use more spread plays to work on the passing game. When that strategy didn’t work to start the game, the Panthers switched to the Wing-T and moved the football. Lucious and Evans showed shiftiness and an ability to make plays, which could be important next week when West Lowndes (4-3) plays at Smithville in a battle against one of the top teams in Class 1A, Region 1.
“We can move the ball, but it just depends on when everybody puts their mind to it,” Evans said. “We have the people to do it. We have the mind-set. We have it all, but it is whether we want to do it or not. We can’t think about it. We just got to go do it.”
Farmer said West Lowndes has the confidence to move the ball with Lucious or Evans at quarterback. If it is Evans, Farmer said West Lowndes will have to get into “Beast Mode” and ride the junior’s strong running.
“He can be pretty deadly on the ground and he can air it out also,” Farmer said.
Evans doesn’t know where the saying “Beast Mode” comes from, but he knows his teammates and fans use it. He said the Panthers didn’t have a plan to mix quarterbacks as much as they did and only worked him in as much as they did because Lucious was banged up in the second half and the coaches didn’t want to risk him getting hurt. As a result, Evans sensed his opening and tried to provide a spark.
“I just had to try to bring the team back, put them on my back and bring them back,” Evans said.
King said he hopes Pippin and Anderson will be back for that game, but after the game he wasn’t sure about the status of Williams, who showcased his ability to be a bruising runner and a playmaker on defense.
“We are just fragile right now,” King said. “We don’t have that many players, so when your key guys go down, it is tough plugging young guys in when they don’t quite what is going on yet. We just have to get healthy or next week.”
King also hopes the Panthers can find a way to give more of a complete effort so they don’t continue to hurt themselves with ill-advised penalties or mistakes on offense that stall drives. He said the players have to shake off what they think might be bad calls and not let one play affect the next. That’s what happened against Heritage Academy, which capitalized on key penalties and good field position to roar back after a turnover gave West Lowndes a short-lived 14-9 lead.
“The defense held up all night, but it seemed like when we got the lead, we got a bad kickoff to start it off and we went backward from there,” King said. “It seemed like we were on a skate. Ever since that bad kickoff, our concentration wasn’t there. We gave them real good field position and they took advantage of it.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.