Pelham pulls off thrilling comeback win against Calera
By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor
PELHAM – Trailing 20-7 at the half and fresh off a 21-0 loss to Oak Mountain, the Pelham Panthers went into the locker room searching for answers against the Calera Eagles on Friday, Sept. 3.
What their search turned up was a flawless comeback effort that saw the Panthers make a goal-line stand in the final five seconds to preserve a 34-30 victory in this year’s region opener.
With head coach Tom Causey out for the game, the Panthers still made their halftime adjustments and outscored Calera 34-10 in the second half to pull off the comeback victory.
“This one was for coach Causey,” assistant coach Craig Hall said. “Our kids just continued to fight. I have to also say something about their team too, that team in white has a lot of heart too. We just made a couple of more plays than they did, and I can’t be more proud of this football team. I’m tickled to death about these kids in the green and gold.”
In the first half, however, the Panthers struggled mightily to contain Calera receiver and Alabama commit Kobe Prentice.
The story of the half quickly became about quarterback Preston Stokes, Prentice and the Calera offense.
That duo alone accounted for all three touchdowns in the half, connecting on plays of 19, 66 and 52 yards. The first saw Prentice sprint in up the left side, while the next two featured the senior making incredible runs after the catch, sending Pelham defenders sliding all over the field.
“You know, that No. 1, I’ve been doing this a long time, but that’s the first time in a long time I’ve seen a kid take the game over like that,” Hall said after the game.
Pelham only answered one of those with a 70-yard touchdown pass from Will Lankford to Jake Fox, but the connection between that duo became important in the second half.
Trailing 20-7 going into the second half, that’s when Pelham flipped a switch, which led to an entertaining final two quarters.
Early in the third quarter, Lankford and Fox carried over their momentum into the second half by connecting on a quick 53-yard touchdown pass up the left sideline to get within six points with 9:44 to play in the third.
Calera added a 32-yard TJ Hernandez field goal on the ensuing drive, but Pelham came to the second half with answers.
Gabe Gamble carried the ball on the first four plays of the ensuing drive for 44 yards to set up an RPO that worked to perfection on a 9-yard touchdown pass to Christian Pritchett, which brought the Panthers within three with 5:38 to play.
The Eagles, however, looked to have an answer for everything at that point, and on the ensuing kickoff, Braylyn Farrington took the ball 85 yards to the house to put Calera back up by 10 with 5:22 left in the third.
Darius Copeland was inspired by Farrington’s return and responded with one himself all the way to the Calera 5-yard line. That set up another strong 7-yard touchdown pass from Lankford to Pritchett to make it 30-27 with 3:43 left in the third quarter.
“I just think we got into a rhythm,” Hall said of the second half. “We got some stops defensively, and any time your defense gets some stops, you kind of get in a rhythm.”
And those stops came via big interceptions down the stretch.
Jylen Tate was first on the next Calera drive, giving it back to Pelham deep in Eagles’ territory.
That led to a fourth-and-8 15-yard touchdown pass from Lankford to none other than Fox to give Pelham its first lead of the game at 34-40.
On the next defensive drive, it was Markell Bell. He came up with a pick that again gave the ball to the Panthers deep in Calera territory.
Pelham didn’t score, but the Panthers did eat up more valuable time off the clock.
With Prentice battling cramps, Calera’s offense wasn’t as sharp in the second half. The Eagles struggled to move the ball for much of the half other than the kick return and the field goal.
But, with 2:26 left, the Eagles got one last shot.
Starting at their own 10-yard line, Stokes and Farrington made big plays to get the Eagles down inside Pelham’s 10-yard line.
The best look they got, however, was a slant pass from Stokes to Prentice that was just a fraction behind the receiver leading to it slipping out of his hands.
A couple plays later, with 3 seconds left, Calera got one more chance inside the 4-yard lie, but running back Chris Cotton was tackled for a loss as time expired, sending Pelham into a frenzied celebration.
“We were fortunate enough to give them no timeouts there, so that put them in a pickle there at the end,” Hall said. “We did what we do. We just played our base and let our kids win it for us.”
Lankford finished the game with five touchdown passes to lead Pelham’s offense, while Gamble had a big night on the ground as well.
Calera was led by Prentice with five catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns, as well as one toss run for 48 yards and a touchdown. Stokes finished 19-35 for 322 yards and two touchdowns, while Cotton had 98 yards on 16 carries. Farrington had nine catches for 140 yards and the 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com.