-- Newberry, FL. Written By: Kevin Smalls
Friday night lights featured a non-conference matchup between the hot Newberry Panthers, and the visiting Fort White Indians.
Prior to kickoff, the Panthers recognized 18 players in honor of senior night. The Panthers came into the night on an eight-game winning streak.
The Panthers are already riding the high horse as they finished 1-9 last year and are standing at 9-1 this season. They were projected to win over the Indians by a margin of 17 points, but they would actually trail for the majority of this game before sparking the offensive fire need to survive the Indians, 35-34.
The Panthers started out slow as they went three-and-out on their first offensive possession, and had their punt blocked into the endzone and recovered by the Indians to give them an early 7-0 lead.
Their next offensive possession resulted in a safety due to miscommunication between Panthers running back and quarterback. The Panthers safety made score 9-0, with the Indians scoring solely off turnovers.
When the Indians offense took the field for the first time, the possession resulted in an interception by Panthers Sophomore CB Chris Jones.
But, on their next possession, freshman QB Tyler Jefferson connected with his receivers down the field and finished the sequence with 20-yard passing touchdown to senior receiver Derek Roberson, making the score 15-0.
The Indians then recovered another bad snap that lead them to the endzone for another touchdown off a turnover.
The score was now 22-0.
Going into halftime, the air was took out of the Panther stadium. The crowd was amazed at how everything seemed to be going wrong for their home team on senior night. This was adversity the Panthers haven’t had to deal with for most the season.
The Panthers came out of halftime the (8-1) Newberry team they had been all season long.
“We went back in the locker room and got focused,” senior HB Laverne Woods lll said.
Woods said Coach Edwards Johnson reminded them they had scored three and four touchdowns in games before, so they could do it again.
In the first half, the Indians were all over the junior RB Kobe Delima, not him allowing any breathing room. In the second half, Delima did not let them stop him. When he got going, his teammates followed, suit.
“We came out cocky. We wasn’t humble. But during halftime, we discussed our mistakes, stayed positive and played the way we know can,” Delima said.
The Panthers got on the scoreboard for the first time in the third quarter with less than seven minutes, remaining. Junior QB/WR Makai Johnson ran a quarterback keeper to make the score 22-7.
Then, the offense started rolling. A lot of credit goes to the Panthers defense for not getting the Indians off the field quickly.
On the next offensive possession, junior WR/QB Makai Johnson and senior RB/OLB John Bescoro put the Panthers in good field position with their running game.Woods finished the sequence with a rushing touchdown to make the 22-14 with 11 minutes remaining in the fourth.
The defense kept the Indians in their own territory and forced a punt that put the Panthers at the 30-yard line with five minutes to go. .
The Panthers did not throw the ball for most of the game until this possession. Panthers QB found 6'5" senior WR JJ Harper on a slant route who ran into the endzone.
They went for the two-point conversion, and lobbed it up to Harper who successful caught the ball and tied the game at 22 with 3:40 left in the game.
The Indians moved the ball down to the 20-yard line and elected to go attempt a field goal with 10 seconds remaining. It was no good. The game was going to overtime which meant sudden death. Each team gets an opportunity to score and put on extra points.
The Indians received the ball first, and senior ILB Kameron Calhoun easily made his way into the endzone using his powerful build and strength. But the field goal was blocked making the score 28-22.
It was now the Panthers opportunity to win the game. Kobe Delima did what he does best, and was able to maneuver his way into the endzone to tie the game at 28-28. All they needed was a field goal, but their field goal was blocked also.
The Panthers received the ball first in the following overtime. Senior QB/WR/ATH used his running game to add another touchdown. Newberry went back up by seven.
Indians offense took the field and Calhoun again bullied his way into the endzone making the score 34-35. This time Indians head coach Demetric Jackson called for his team to attempt the two-point conversion to win the game instead of tying the game.
With the crowd intensity, the Panthers were able to hold off the ferocious Calhoun to seal the 35-34 comeback victory.
After the game Coach Johnson said, “I told my team that the second half would tell us a lot about our team.”
Coach Johnson said the program has called this season “The Great Turnaround” as they’ve came so far from last season.
“We are blessed with great players, great coaching staff, great administration and great community support,” he said. “We are not done, it is only the beginning.”
With the win, the Panthers will play at home for their playoff game.
Player of the Game: JJ Harper – 1 TD and 2-point conversion catch (Play of the game)