Game Ball staying in Pelham

The Thompson Warriors started and finished strong Friday night, but it was the play of the Pelham defense in between that sealed the victory for the Panthers, 35-24.

The Warriors (0-6, 0-5)came out swinging, forcing a fumble on Pelham’s Reed Bright, and Austin Jones recovered to set up the Thompson offense.

Thompson quarterback David Bria delivered a strike to Jordan Myers to put the Warriors on the 3-yard line, but the Pelham defense held strong, forcing a Zac Oglesby 20-yard field goal that put the Warriors up, 3-0.

After holding the Pelham defense three-and-out, the Warriors’ offense went back to work, this time from the ground as Bria sprinted 87 yards to increase the Thompson lead, 10-0.

The Panthers (3-3, 3-3) wasted little time getting on the board in the second quarter as Fabian Traylor took the ball in from 2 yards out to cut the deficit, 10-7.

Bria fumbled on a handoff exchange on the ensuing Warrior possession, and Pelham’s Derek Slaughter picked it off in midair and rumbled 60 yards to give the Panthers the lead, 14-10.

The lead would not last as the Warriors took the final possession of the half and capitalized on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Bria to Michael Ross to send the crowd to their feet.

Bria finished the first half 8-of-12 for 129 yards, while the Warrior offense also managed 121 yards on the ground.

While the touchdown to end the half got the Warrior fans going, the loudest ovation of the game came at halftime when the stadium announcer announced Spain Park was leading Hoover, 21-0, at the half.

But just like the Spain Park-Hoover game, in which the Bucs came from behind to win 24-21, the Warrior lead would not last.

After each team forced the other to punt to start the second half, the Panthers once again took advantage of a Thompson turnover when Nigel Terrell, who missed the last two games due to an injury, picked off a Jaylon Jones option pitch and took it to the Thompson 1-yard line.

Jones subbed for Bria in the second half after Bria was shaken up in the first half.

Pelham quarterback Tripp Martin took ball in from 1-yard out to increase the Panther lead, 21-17.

The Pelham defense forced the Warriors to punt, and then Ryan Williams sealed the Panther drive on a 5-yard touchdown run.

The Panther defense once again came up with a big play on the next possession when linebacker Jake Holland picked off a Bria pass and returned it to the 2-yard line.

Bria left the game following the play.

“Our kids played hard, made a few mistakes and they capitalized on it,” Thompson head coach Brian Maner said. “If they’ll keep on working hard and keep on believing, good things will happen to them.”

Burnett credited the Thompson offense for keeping his defense off balance in the first half, but he said the defense stepped up when it had to.

“Our defense came up big and put our offense in a good position several times,” Pelham head coach Brett Burnett said. “They’re just a bunch of gutsy kids.”

Williams took the ball in two plays later to give the Panthers their final score of the game, 35-17.

The Warriors would not go away quietly, adding a 15-yard touchdown strike from Jones to Kenny Johnson following a Jimmy Miller fumble recovery.

Thompson recovered the onside kick, but it was too little, too late for the Warriors as Williams intercepted a Jones pass to seal the victory.

The Warrior defense held the Panthers to just 26 yards passing on the game, including just three in the third quarter, and 166 yards rushing.

Williams led the Panther offense with 17 carries for 84 yards and two touchdowns.

“This keeps us alive. We still hold our own destiny in our hand,” Burnett said “It was a big win for our program.”