Pelham falls to Bibb County, honors Dabo Swinney

By JEREMY RAINES | For the Reporter

PELHAM –Ned Bearden Stadium was filled with green and gold on Friday, Aug. 30, as the Pelham faithful filed in to pay tribute to Pelham High School alum and current Clemson University head coach Dabo Swinney during a special jersey retirement ceremony at halftime.

Swinney, a three-sport athlete and graduate of PHS’s 1988 senior class, is one of the most notable names to come out of Pelham. After playing for the Panthers, Swinney went on to play and coach for the University of Alabama before later joining Clemson’s coaching staff under previous head coach Terry Bowden. He was later named the head coach at Clemson in 2008 on an interim basis before taking over officially at the end of the season.

Throughout his life, Swinney has faced many trials and hurdles in his personal and professional life to get to where he is today building one of the most elite college football programs in the country.

Entering the 2019 football season, Swinney has an overall 116-30 record capturing multiple playoff appearances, conferences titles, and national titles; 2018 being the most recent. This ceremony would mark the first ever jersey retirement for PHS.

“When I look in the mirror, I don’t see the Clemson coach,” Swinney said. “I don’t see all the success and all the stuff. What I see is that same hungry kid from Pelham, Alabama chasing his dream. That’s what I see every day. The lessons I learned right here, the drive, it’s still with me in South Carolina. Don’t let your circumstances keep you from unleashing the greatness that’s inside of you. Because if God can take me and take a mess and create a message, he can use anybody. Because, there ain’t nothing special about me, except, I’m from Pelham, Alabama. No matter how many years I’ve been gone from Pelham, every time I come back, it’s like I never left.”

With a little extra motivation from Swinney’s attendance, Pelham started the game off strong taking the football to the Bibb County 8-yard line on its second drive, but they failed to punch in the touchdown and were forced to settle for a field goal, which gave the Panthers an early 3-0 advantage with 5:37 to play in the first quarter.

Midway through the second quarter, PHS QB Xavier Lankford connected with Jake Fox for a huge pass play down the home sideline setting Pelham up inside the red zone. A great hard run by Gabe Gamble set up an easy 1-yard touchdown run up the middle for Walker Lyles.

After the successful PAT, Pelham extended their lead to 10-0 with just 6:58 left in the first half.

Pelham seemed to be taking over the game, but that’s when Bibb County woke up offensively and got on the board behind a a huge 55-yard pass down their sideline to make the score to 10-6 after a failed 2-point conversion attempt with 4:51 left in the half.

Pelham responded with a huge pass of its own, however, with a beautiful 65-yard pass from Xavier Lankford to J.D. Wilkins down the Pelham sideline. At first, the crowd erupted as everyone thought Wilkins had scored, but the referees ruled him out-of-bounds at the 2-yard-line.

Much like their first trip to the red zone, the Panthers struggled punching in the touchdown eventually suffering a sack and a bad snap turning the ball back over to the Choctaws.

That misfortune became costly when Bibb County put together a great offensive drive that was capped off with a 25-yard touchdown run by the Choctaws to put them in the lead 12-10 after another failed 2-point conversion heading into halftime.

After the halfway mark, Bibb County put together another offensive scoring drive to extend the lead to 19-10 early in the second half.

Lankford, however, answered with a big play for Pelham.

He used his legs from his own 21-yard-line for a 79-yard touchdown run that got the Panthers back into the game down by only two points.

Pelham found themselves trying to battle back to overcome the two-point deficit, but after a failed late attempt for the second week in a row, the Panthers eventually fell to the Choctaws 19-17 for their second straight loss by seven points or less to start the 2019 season.

On the offensive side of the ball, Lankford finished the night with 148 passing yards on 8 completions and rushed for 123 yards on 19 carries. Wilkins finished with three receptions for 96 yards, while Lyles ended his night with four rushes for 3 yards and four receptions for 14 yards.

Kicker Salvador Jimenez finishes the night with a 25-yard FG and a perfect 2-for-2 on PAT’s. On the defensive side, Braden Marlowe and Phillip Duke each finished with 9 tackles, while Seth Branham had seven tackles on the night.

The Panthers fell to 0-2 on the season with the loss, and the Choctaws improved to 2-0. Pelham looks to put this loss behind them as they prepare for three straight region road games with the first matchup at home against Homewood on Friday, Sept. 6.