Pelham earns first region win with strong victory over Calera

Published 11:27 pm Friday, October 6, 2023

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By SETH HAGAN | Special to the Reporter

PELHAM – The Pelham Panthers and Calera Eagles each came into their  matchup on Friday, Oct. 6 still looking for their first region win of the season, but it was the Panthers who were able to walk away with their first region win despite an early deficit.

The Panthers turned all three of the Calera’s first-half turnovers into points, including a pick-six, to stack a 28-3 halftime lead and cruise to a 35-6 victory on Friday, Oct 6.

“Definitely needed a region win, that’s for sure. Our kids came out and played hard,” said Pelham head coach Mike Vickery. “Calera came out with a good first drive and we responded. Too many penalties on our side and we’ve got to eliminate those, but the kids never quit and kept pushing.”

Calera led a long six-minute first drive to start the game. Quarterback AJ Johnson kept the Eagles alive on the ground, converting several third downs along with running back Demetrius Davis.

However, the drive ultimately stalled out at the Pelham 20-yard line. Calera kicker TJ Hernandez was able to convert a 37-yard field goal to put the Eagles up 3-0 halfway through the first quarter.

The teams traded punts in the following possessions, but Pelham’s luck turned around when you’d least expect it.

A great punt and recovery put Pelham in a precarious position on the 2-yard line. But that was when Clayton Mains made his move.

Spotting CJ Tolbert down the field, Mains unleashed a moonshot that Tolbert settled under 50 yards downfield, and he raced the remaining 48 for a sensational 98-yard touchdown that brought the home crowd to its feet.

Calera continued to struggle to move the ball, and things went from bad to worse on the Eagles’ fourth drive. After converting a third down, Johnson fumbled the snap and it was recovered by Pelham’s Will Felton.

Pelham didn’t take long to capitalize with Mike Grayson taking it 19 yards two plays later for the score and the 14-3 lead.

Misfortune struck for Calera just 90 seconds later, as Johnson’s first pass of the next drive was picked off by Felton and returned 20 yards for a touchdown and a 21-3 lead with six minutes to go in the first half.

The Panthers’ defense forced another three and out, and the offense responded with its longest drive of the game. Mains and his teammates marched 58 yards in seven plays to take a 25-point lead into the locker room.

It took another turnover to spark the Pelham offense again in the second half. After the teams both forced turnovers on downs, the Panthers ripped another fumble away from Johnson after the Eagles began to move the ball.

Pelham promptly took the pigskin 54 yards on another seven-play drive to put the game away with a 35-3 lead late in the third quarter.

Hernandez hit on another field goal to end his evening on a high note—this time from 40 yards to make it 35-6 with 7:52 remaining in the game.

“You’ve got to win one region game at a time. We’ve got three more and we’ve got to go out and realize the importance of each one,” Vickery said. “We didn’t play mistake free football tonight, but we’ll clean that up and continue to get better each week.”

Calera (0-6, 0-4) will host Briarwood Christian next week, Oct. 13 at 7 p.m., while Pelham (4-2, 1-2) will head back out on the road to Benjamin Russell for a crucial region game Thursday, Oct. 12 at 7 p.m.