So this is what West Lowndes High School football is supposed to look like.
OK, maybe not the penalties, something coach Anthony King has been frustrated by all season. And those red-zone failures in the first half were gnawing at him.
But in the big picture, the defense was stifling all night, the offense wore down the opposing defense, and the result was a 26-3 win over French Camp Academy on Friday night.
The win puts West Lowndes (5-2, 4-0 Class 1A, Region 3) in firm control of the region race. With the loss by French Camp (2-5, 2-1), every other team in the region has at least one defeat.
“We told them at halftime that I just love when a game plan comes together,” King said after his team turned a 3-2 halftime deficit into a comfortable victory. “All my skill guys play one way, offense and defense. Other teams go both ways, and they can’t handle us in the second half.”
Turning over the ball against West Lowndes doesn’t help, and French Camp fumbled on the first play of consecutive drives during the third quarter. Silas Hodge, whose 16 carries netted just 55 tough yards, was stripped midway through the quarter to give the hosts the ball at the FCA 40.
It took just four plays for West Lowndes to make French Camp pay. Marquez Shelton beat FCA defensive back Macon Bentley, and quarterback Fred Rice hit Shelton with a 30-yard TD pass for West Lowndes’ first touchdown.
The second one came less than 2 minutes later, as Hodge never got the handoff from FCA quarterback Cody Perry, and West Lowndes recovered on their opponent’s 35-yard line. Again, it took four plays.
This time, Jaquavious Tate eluded potential tacklers in the backfield and danced down the sideline for a 14-yard gain to set up Shelton’s 15-yard touchdown run. Rice ran in the conversion, and suddenly it was 18-3.
“We knew second half was going to be ours,” King said.
And just when it looked as if FCA might put something together, the West Lowndes defense made sure that didn’t happen. The hosts opened the fourth quarter with their second illegal substitution penalty, which, combined with a personal foul on the previous play, left them with fourth-and-34 from their own 19. The ensuing punt had French Camp starting a possession in West Lowndes territory.
Two plays had FCA at the 25, and a nice run by Perry had them at the 15, but a chop block on the play nullified the gain. Third- and fourth-and-long situations had the West Lowndes defense salivating, and Perry was sacked on back-to-back plays, first for 3 yards and then a 10-yard sack by senior cornerback Lakendricks Bankhead that ended the drive and, in all likelihood, French Camp’s chances.
“Defense played lights out,” King said. “That’s a good quarterback, but he had nowhere to throw. Our defensive backs did a good job.”
Shelton erased any remaining doubts about the outcome on the next drive. First, he took a screen pass from Rice for 16 yards on third-and-13, then, on third-and-3 from the FCA 23, Shelton took a pitch, bounced off a defender and raced down to the 2, setting up a short keeper by Rice for the final touchdown.
“Defense won this game tonight,” King said. “Our offense came along at the end.”
Shelton led the Panthers with 93 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries while catching four passes for 55 yards and a score. Tate rushed 22 times for 88 yards, while Rice added 53 yards rushing on 13 carries.
Rice finished 5-of-9 passing for 63 yards and a touchdown.
Next up for the Panthers is a trip to Hamilton, followed by home games against
Ethel and Vardaman, and King wants all of them to get as many home games as possible during the postseason. The key? Not waiting until the third quarter to get the offense going.
“We’ve got to start fast,” King said. “We’ve started out slowly the past two weeks.”
The Panthers will close the season with home games against Ethel and Vardaman.
West Lowndes 26, French Camp Academy 3
French Camp Academy (2-5, 2-1 1A-3) 0 3 0 0 — 3
West Lowndes (5-2, 4-0 1A-3) 2 0 16 8 — 26
WL — Safety, Silas Hodge tackled in end zone, :02
FCA — Rob Surrette FB 31, :23
WL — Marquez Shelton 30 pass from Fred Rice (Jaquavious Tate run), 5:55
WL — Shelton 15 run (Rice run), 3:58
WL — Rice 2 run (Tate run), 3:13