HAMILTON — Don’t underestimate the importance of accessorizing.
After all, if you look good, you feel good, so don’t give Lemerrius Fair a hard time if he appears to have every accoutrement for his football ensemble.
The junior quarterback has a white sleeve on his left arm and wristbands of the same color in just the right spots. Tucked behind his back, a white towel complements the white sleeve, even if it doesn’t go with the pink towels many of his teammates chose to wear Friday night.
That’s OK, though, because Fair had the splash of color under control with a pair of pink Spats that fit perfectly over his cleats. Spats — also spelled Spatz — is a shortening of spatterdashes, or spatter guards. They are a type of classic footwear accessory for outdoor wear, covering the instep and the ankle. If you didn’t know any better, you might think the Spats were legwarmers stolen from an aerobics instructor who made them fashionable in the 1980s.
But that’s ancient history to Fair and the West Lowndes High School football team. However, you have to go back almost that far to find the last time the Panthers were trending toward as much success as they’re having this season. If West Lowndes can keep it up, it just might match the mark of nine wins set by the 1995 team, which is believed to be the most by any football team in a season in school history.
Fair did his part to keep West Lowndes on pace to make that a reality. More importantly, Fair played a key role in helping the Panthers secure their first playoff berth since 2012 by throwing for three touchdowns and running for another in a 36-7 victory against Hamilton in a Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 1A, Region 1 game at Jimmy Moore Field.
“For some reason, with this sleeve and this towel I feel like I play better,” said Fair, who also showed off a black and gray Under Armour jersey under his No. 4. His white jersey appeared to be a little small, but Fair said he liked to have the jersey come down just below his ribs so he could show off his stomach and the extended padding to protect his back.
The win helped West Lowndes (6-4, 5-1 Region 1) match its most wins in a season since 2010. West Lowndes will play host to Coffeeville next week for a chance to wrap up what is believed to be the school’s first home playoff game since 1992, when it defeated O’Bannon (48-0) and Eupora (24-0). Those two wins are the only playoff victories in school history.
Falkner beat Coffeeville 27-14, so a victory by West Lowndes next week would give it the tiebreaker against Falkner and Coffeeville with one regular-season game remaining. West Lowndes is one game behind Region 1 leader Smithville. The Indians beat the Panthers 20-6 on Oct. 9.
West Lowndes bounced back from that loss last week with a 38-21 victory against Vardaman. It built on that momentum against Hamilton (1-7, 1-5) by scoring 22 points in the first quarter. The Panthers extended the lead to 30-0 at halftime against the depleted Lions, who lost Aaron Fontonet to an apparent injury in the first quarter.
Kemario Evans scored on a 2-yard run on the Panthers’ only possession of the second half, which was played with a running clock.
Fair (6 of 9, 213 yards) connected with Marcus Farmer on touchdown passes of 9 and 84 yards. He also ran for a 5-yard touchdown on a night in which the Panthers continued to build chemistry with their weapons.
“Fair can take that pounding and run and throw it,” West Lowndes coach Anthony King said. “We are very pleased with Fair coming in there. We pretty much can open up our offense a whole lot because he can pass and run it.”
King was pleased to give his first-string players the second half off because the Panthers finally are getting healthy. Sophomore quarterback/athlete Quinshawn Lucious didn’t play, but West Lowndes continued to work running backs Syboris Pippins and Jerry Anderson back into the rotation. Anderson caught a 34-yard touchdown pass from Fair.
With Pippins, Anderson, Evans, and Lucious, who is expected to be back in time for the playoffs, King said the Panthers have a variety of weapons that will allow them to spread teams out or to mix and match running backs to keep defenses on their heels.
“It is a good time to get healthy,” King said. “I think (Hamilton coach Josh Baty) had about 10 guys out, so he is very beat up. We are fortunate we have only one hurt right now.”
The move of Fair to quarterback has helped solidify the offense. Fair showed a knack for running the football and displayed a nice touch on his passes when he moved to quarterback late in a 30-20 loss to Heritage Academy on Oct. 2. Lucious’ injury has given him more time to settle into a new role and gain confidence.
King said that adjustment period has been important because Fair is one of three quarterbacks the Panthers have used this season. In addition to Lucious, King said Evans has played the position, but he said Evans’ height proved to be a problem, so they had to go in another direction. He said Fair provides the right balance of power running, speed, and throwing ability.
“Lucious is fast, but he is small, so we kind of want him to get out in the slot so he doesn’t have to take the pounding he would have to take at quarterback,” King said. “We want to get him out in space and get the ball to him quickly.
“In the beginning of the season, we didn’t think we had anybody who could throw it. Kemario was back there, but he was short and he couldn’t see over the line. Lucious is real fast, but he doesn’t throw it as accurately as Fair. We are pretty much starting to find the right combinations now as far as offense, but defense is pretty much going to get you to a championship.”
Fair said he will do his best to keep accessorizing so he and his teammates are on the right page. In fact, he said next week he would wear a pink towel so he would match Farmer.
“You have to step up when a teammate goes down,” Fair said. “I wanted to be the one to step into that role and do it.”
Farmer said Fair has made the transition to quarterback look easy. He also has looked good doing it.
“He is able to air it out quicker,” Farmer said. “With (Lucious), we have to do a lot of blocking because he is going to take off and start running fast.
“We will be deadly (when Lucious returns). We will be unstoppable because we can run one play throwing and the next play running. We can hit you with anything and then pound the ball with our backs.”
Hamilton’s points came on a 38-yard pass from Todd Robinson to Austin Taylor. Denis Grignard’s kick was good.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.