‘We love them’: Pelham seniors continue to set the stage despite playoff loss

Published 10:25 pm Friday, November 5, 2021

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor 

PELHAM – Tear-filled hugs took over the field at Pelham High School’s football stadium following a first-round playoff loss to McGill-Toolen on Friday night, Nov. 5—a sign of where the program has come.

The heartbreak of the loss showed through, as the Panthers held a 6-0 lead late in the first half, but couldn’t find an offensive rhythm after that in a 20-6 loss to the Yellow Jackets.

This year’s senior class, like the last few, however, left a mark that continues to build Pelham football in the right direction under head coach Tom Causey.

“We love them, and we’re proud of them. We built the program through them and owe them,” Causey said of the seniors after the loss. “The last few senior classes have paid a price to get us where we’re at. We’re trying to build something where the pay it back to the guys behind them. That’s where we want to be right now.”

And the Panthers poured dedication into trying to make this the year they advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2006, making the loss even more heartbreaking.

“It’s emotional, man,” Causey said. “Since last November to now, these guys have been pouring their souls into it.”

And the Panthers had their chances due to tremendous defensive play throughout.

 In the opening half, the two defenses played like units giving up 22 points or less per game this season. On a cold night, it was difficult for both to move the ball early in the game.

McGill-Toolen started with the ball and put together a decent drive, but eventually was forced into fourth-and-7. The Jackets went for it, but Jylen Tate broke up what would have been a first-down pass.

Pelham’s offense, however, went three-and-out and punted it right back.

McGill again drove down the field, including a fake punt for a first down on fourth-and-3, but a false start, a hold and then a tackle for loss forced the Jackets to kick a field goal from close to 45 yards that missed wide right.

Pelham then started to show some life with its best drive late in the first quarter, but ultimately had to punt in McGill territory to start the second quarter.

But penalties continued to cost the Jackets.

They strung together plays of 6, 15, 5 and 20 yards consecutively before a delay of game and personal foul pushed them back and eventually led to a punt.

The Panthers still couldn’t capitalize with a three-and-out, but after the Yellow Jackets had another holding penalty lead to a punt on the ensuing drive, Pelham finally took advantage.

The Panthers got back-to-back runs of 7 and 8 yards from Gabe Gamble with the second ending in a facemask penalty to push them further up the field.

Gamble had started to get in a rhythm and capitalized shortly after by busting through the middle for a 27-yard touchdown run that finally broke the scoreless tie with 1:31 left in the half. The PAT, however, missed, leading to a 6-0 lead.

Then, after failing to convert for the majority of the half, McGill got one more chance and put together two big chunk plays to set up a 23-yard field goal with one second left. The Jackets nailed it to make it 6-3 at the half.

Early in the second half, after forcing a quick Pelham punt to open the half, the Jackets marched down the field and tied it with another field goal, this time from 41 yards.

Pelham then looked to be answering with a nice drive that got all the way to the McGill 28-yard line, but the Panthers failed to convert on fourth-and-4.

“They did a good job in the box,” Causey said of the offensive struggles. “We’re a run-first team for sure, and they did a good job in there. We needed to be able to throw the ball, and we were just off. Either the call or the play, we were just off. In this game, sometimes you’re off and we were off a little tonight. Some of that has to do with McGill.”

From there, McGill responded with heavy doses of Braylon McReynolds. He went in from 35 yards out near the end of the third quarter to give the Jackets their first lead.

He then added another midway through the fourth to make it 20-6 with 5:56 left, and Pelham had no answer offensively, only touching the ball one more time.

“I thought our defense did a heck of a job all game,” Causey said. “Our defense played way too many snaps in the second half. We can’t ask our guys to go out there and do that. We have to get some offense going and we didn’t”

Pelham was led by Gabe Gamble with 18 carries for 88 yards and a touchdown, while Brayden Marlowe had a stellar defensive night with 11 tackles, including three for loss.