Thrill in the Hills: Panthers down Vestavia in triple overtime

What started out as a defensive slugfest ended as an offensive shootout Friday night, as Tripp Martin took the ball in from 10 yards out in the third overtime and Cameron Haynes scored the winning kick to beat the Rebels, 38-37.

The Rebels took the lead, 37-31, on a 2-yard run by Michael Brown in the third overtime, but Michael O’Neal missed his second kick of the game on the extra point. O’Neal missed a 33-yard field in the second quarter that would have cut the deficit to 7-3 prior to a lightning delay that suspended the game for more than an hour.

The Panthers jumped on the Rebels in the first quarter when Reed Bright returned his second kickoff for a touchdown of the season, this time from 94 yards.

After the delay in the second quarter, the Pelham defense held strong as Andrew Hayes intercepted a Ryan Howard pass in the end zone to stop the Rebels’ drive.

In the third quarter, Pelham linebacker Derek Slaughter took a tipped Howard pass 40 yards for the score to put the Panthers up 14-0.

The two defenses forced turnovers on each of the next two possessions, beginning when Vestavia’s Stephen Sanders made a diving grab to pick off a Martin pass.

The Panthers returned the favor on a fourth-down stop at their own 9-yard line.

After forcing the Panthers to punt on the next possession, the Rebels gave the ball back when Brown’s halfback pass was intercepted by Pelham’s J.B. Camel.

Pelham’s offense got its first score of the game on Ryan Wiliams’ 62-yard scamper with 10:43 remaining in the game to go up 21-0.

But that’s when the Vestavia passing game went to work.

Howard connected with Davis Blair from 16 yards out to cut the lead to 21-7, and then the Rebels’ onside kick bounced off Pelham’s Anthony Rodriguez and Nathan Brock recovered.

Three minutes later, Howard connected for his second touchdown pass, this time to Brown from 25 yards out.

The Rebels kicked deep on the kickoff, and then held the Panthers three-and-out before Howard connected with Patrick Prewitt for a 5-yard touchdown pass.

In the first overtime, O’Neal nailed a 20-yard field goal on the Rebels’ first possession, but Pelham’s Cameron Haynes answered with a 29-yard field goal to send the game into a second overtime.

On the first play of the second overtime, Martin connected with Jonathan Dunlap to put the Panthers up, 31-24, following Haynes point-after kick. Howard went back to Prewitt to answer the Panthers’ score to send the game into the third, and final, overtime.