Pelham fends off rival Oak Mountain for 2-0 start

Published 11:28 pm Friday, September 1, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

PELHAM – The celebration felt a little bit sweeter on Friday night, Sept. 1 for the Pelham Panthers as they officially redeemed their 0-2 start from a season earlier with a thrilling 24-21 victory over rival Oak Mountain.

Pelham trailed just once in the game and overcame that deficit with an 88-yard game-winning touchdown drive that led to the three-point win following a victory against Jackson-Olin a week earlier.

After losing both games a year ago by four points, Pelham is now 2-0 to start the 2023 season.

“Right now, it’s about understanding what these games are about and about preparing us for those region games and a really, really tough region,” Pelham head coach Mike Vickery said after the win. “We’ll use this bye week to capitalize on this confidence, but bring them back down so the remember this isn’t our goal. Our goal is bigger than this and we have to go get better to achieve that.”

Vickery was proud of how his team battled, especially in the second half after falling behind for the first time all game.

Starting at their own 12-yard line, the Panthers put together a 13-play drive that started with seconds remaining in the third quarter and ended with Bishop Relllah running in a 4-yard touchdown that became the game-winner with 7:03 left.

The drive saw the Panthers finally start to have success in the run game with Mike Grayson reeling off a 26-yard run at one point and quarterback Clayton Mains powering his way for several positive runs.

“We never could get into a rhythm early,” Vickery said. “They kind of sold out in the first half on the run and we were able to spread them out a little bit and get some momentum in the second half. We had a touchdown called back early in the second half on the first drive and I thought we had them in a good position where we could start to run the football and Clayton made some gutsy plays with his legs. I’m really proud of him.”

Oak Mountain put together a strong answer on the ensuing drive, but the Eagles ultimately got pushed backward after converting on two third downs to eventually fall out of field goal range and force a punt with 3:04 left.

The Eagles did their job in forcing a three and out and getting the ball back with 47 seconds remaining, but they were pinned deep at their own 11-yard line.

Oak Mountain quarterback Will O’Dell did convert a big fourth-and-10 with his legs, while he completed a 27-yard pass over the middle of the field shortly after to set up one final play with one second left.

Ultimately, the Pelham defense ended a strong night by tackling O’Dell in the open field to preserve the victory.

“These games early, it’s great to have these, because it puts us in a lot of situations where it will help us down the road,” Vickery said. “I’m so proud of our kids for battling. 2-0 is better than 0-2 so we’ll take that and go back and clean up some of our mistakes.”

The start to the game matched the rainy weather that consumed the area on Friday night, as both teams settled in for an early fight in the trenches with the defenses becoming the early highlights for both.

Following punts from each on their first two drives, the Panthers got their first big break when Markell Bell intercepted an O’Dell pass over the middle of the field and returned it to the Oak Mountain 6-yard line.

It looked like the Panthers might not capitalize on the big defensive play after going backwards to the 13-yard line, but on third-and-13, Mains pulled out some magic tricks by making several defenders miss before powering his way into the end zone to give Pelham a 7-0 lead late in the opening quarter.

That became the score at the end of the quarter, but Oak Mountain had a quick answer in the second quarter with O’Dell answering on a powerful run of his own.

Following a 37-yard run from Marty Myricks, O’dell was set up with a short first-and-goal, eventually powering his way in to even the score with 9:36 to play in the half.

It took less than two minutes for Mains to answer with his second touchdown run, taking a ball right up the gut of the Oak Mountain defense for a 75-yard score to put the Panthers back in front 14-7.

The Eagles, however, took advantage of two key pass plays and two penalties on the ensuing drive to eventually set up a 1-yard touchdown run from Jacob Porco on fourth-and-goal to tie the game 14-14 going into the break as Woodrow Hackbarth ended the half with an Oak Mountain interception.

Pelham came right out and looked to have found the rhythm Vickery was eluding to when the Panthers marched right down the field for what appeared to be a Mains touchdown run.

A holding, however, negated it, and one play later, Oak Mountain’s Jayden Aparicio-Bailey put a hard hit on a receiver right after catching the ball, forcing a fumble and giving the Eagles the ball back.

Oak Mountain, however, went three-and-out, which led to a sloppy few possessions before Pelham took a 17-14 lead on a 38-yard field goal from Jake Garner with 3:25 left in the third.

Penalties then became key on the next drive, allowing Oak Mountain to move the ball down the field.

The Eagles capitalized when O’Dell hit tight end Jackson Blackwell for an 11-yard touchdown and their first lead of the night at 21-17.

Pelham was pinned deep on the ensuing kickoff, taking over at its own 12-yard line, but Mains stepped up as a veteran quarterback and didn’t panic as he marched the Panthers down the field for the eventual game-winning touchdown run from Rellah.

Mains led Pelham with 168 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries, while he added 36 passing yards with one interception. Grayson finished with 86 yards on the ground on 18 carries. Jacob Gibbs led Pelham’s receiving corps with 24 yards.

O’Dell finished with 77 rushing yards and one touchdown on 11 carries, while he added 162 passing yards and an additional touchdown on 20-of-34 passing. Myricks finished with 56 rushing yards and 53 receiving yards for the Eagles.