Eagles build big lead, hold on for win at Pelham

PELHAM – Calera built a 27-0 halftime lead and then almost let it slip away in a 27-20 football season-opening win at Pelham on Friday, Aug. 23.

“We wore out in the second half, and that’s on us. We’ve got to get in better shape,” said Calera High School coach Trey Simpson, who also credited Pelham’s halftime adjustments after his first career victory. “I’m just proud that they found a way to stay the course and gut it out.”

The visiting Eagles made it look easy in the first half, scoring on each possession except for the last one of the half during which they seemed content to let the clock run out.

Senior running back Ashton Shoddie set the tone on the first play of the game, rumbling 14 yards for a first down.

Shoddie gave Pelham fits almost every time he touched the ball, but an injury had him on the sideline for much of the second half, when the Panthers made it interesting.

On third-and-10 from the PHS 11-yard line with 2:58 remaining in the first quarter, Shoddie burst through the middle of the line and into the end zone for the game’s first score.

Just 14 seconds into the second quarter, Calera’s Christopher Cotton-Taylor broke off a 68-yard run, and with Jordan Helm’s second point-after, CHS led 14-0.

Shoddie added his second scoring run from seven yards out, bowling over a defender at the goal line, with 6:18 on the clock in the second quarter.

The Calera defense then came up with another stop. Pelham lined up to punt, but the snap was mishandled and the punter’s knee hit the ground as he attempted to scoop up the football.

So, after scoring drives of 84, 85 and 76 yards, the Eagles had only five yards to go for their fourth touchdown, this one courtesy of Cotton-Taylor.

Pelham, meanwhile, had a couple of promising drives in the first half but could not finish, as the Calera defense forced two turnovers on downs and a fumble recovered by Jayson Jones.

The second half saw the game take almost a complete turn toward the home team.

CHS moved the ball down the field on the opening possession, but its drive stalled at the Pelham 35-yard line when a fourth down pass fell incomplete.

On its ensuing possession, Pelham used a 15-yard pass from senior quarterback Xavier Lankford to Walker Lyles to convert a crucial third down and then a three-yard run by Gabriel Gamble II for its first score of the game.

The Panthers then firmly seized the momentum and made the Calera fans uncomfortable by forcing a three-and-out and scoring again on a 10-yard run by Dylan Peterson.

That scoring drive was aided by a roughing the passer penalty against Calera when they had stopped Pelham on a third down play, and Eagles’ miscues were too common in the second half.

A high snap on Calera’s next possession allowed Pelham’s Seth Branham to sack Quin’Darius Crews before he had time to run or distribute the ball.

Lankford’s 18-yard pass across the middle to Lyles for a touchdown made it apparent that the Panthers were back in the game.

Pelham’s Grayson Redford recovered a CHS fumble on the first play of the next possession, but the Calera defense finally rose to the occasion, pushing PHS back a total of eight yards in three plays to force a punt.

Shoddie re-entered the game and gave the Calera offense a boost, but it was not enough as Pelham’s defense came up with one more stop.

A snap over Crews’ head forced a punt, and then Pelham pressured Crews as he lined up to punt, forcing a short kick that gave the Panthers the ball on Calera’s 29-yard line with 1:03 left to play in the game.

Lankford passed to Christian Pritchett to the 9-yard line on the first play of the possession.

Calera’s De’Javious Williams made a diving pass breakup at the goal line, and then Lankford scrambled to the 4-yard line to set up fourth-and-goal with 24 seconds remaining.

Lankford dropped back to pass with the game on the line. His blockers gave him some time in the pocket but he could not find an open receiver, and his pass to the back of the end zone fell to the turf and gave Calera the win.

Calera hosts Pell City next week, and Pelham hosts Bibb County.

Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com.