Pelham’s late surge falls short as Homewood eliminates Panthers from playoff contention

Published 11:44 pm Friday, October 20, 2023

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

HOMEWOOD ­– The Pelham Panthers refused to go down without a fight as they nearly turned around a surefire 31-7 win for the Homewood Patriots with two touchdowns in the final minutes. However, the Patriots took the 31-21 win at Waldrop Stadium on Oct. 20 to officially eliminate the Panthers from postseason contention.

“The kids kept battling, and I’m just proud of their effort,” Pelham coach Mike Vickery said. “But at the end of the day, you’ve got to come play at a higher level for the first two-and-a-half, three quarters to beat a team like Homewood with that kind of history. We’re going to get better as coaches and as players and be ready to go the next time we step on the field.”

Pelham had a massive opportunity from the first snap as Homewood starting quarterback Will Myers was unable to play, leaving sophomore Kaleb Carson to start in his place.

However, the Patriots got going early with a 27-yard gain and then scored on an 18-yard pass from Carson to King Walker with 8:26 left in the first.
The Panthers moved the chains on a 3rd-and-10 conversion from Clayton Mains to Marcus Arnold, but Pelham couldn’t move the ball from there and punted.
Homewood then embarked on a lengthy nine-minute drive anchored by Carson’s quarterback runs. Hunter Drawhorn stopped the Patriots at the one-yard line on a run, and after a Pelham stop at the goal line, Homewood punched in a touchdown to go up 14-0 with 7:30 left in the 2nd.

Pelham responded in a big way with a strong drive. CJ Tolbert caught an early first down, and the Panthers converted 4th-and-1 for a goal-to-go situation. On the next play, Mains hit Arnold in the back of the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 14-7.

After the offense made an impact, Pelham’s defense kept the momentum going. Two plays into Homewood’s ensuing drive, the Panthers responded to a big gain on first down with an interception by Javion Gee in Pelham territory.

Now with 1:05 to work with, Mains and the offense made a couple of plays to get moving, but ultimately, they didn’t have enough time to find the scoreboard, and the Patriots took a 14-7 lead into halftime.

After a Pelham punt to open the third quarter, the Panthers got a third down stop to force a 4th-and-3 from midfield. Homewood tried to draw an offside and then convert it on the ground, but it failed and gave the Panthers the ball in Patriots territory.

However, the exact same situation happened on Pelham’s ensuing drive as the Panthers tried to draw a penalty and then convert a 4th-and-3, but the downfield pass was incomplete to force a turnover on downs.

Homewood quickly took advantage of getting the ball from midfield and scored a 49-yard touchdown run off the legs of Evan Ausmar to go up 21-7 midway through the third.

The Patriots then added another score after a Panthers three-and-out led to a 23-yard rushing touchdown by AJ Crear, which put Homewood up 28-7 at the end of the third quarter.

After a quarterback sneak on 4th-and-1 succeeded, Pelham stalled out from there and turned the ball over on downs after a deep shot on fourth down fell incomplete.

On the next Homewood drive, the Patriots looked set to hit the end zone again after a 28-yard run by Ausmer on the first play, but Pelham’s defense held strong with three straight stops inside the 10 to force a 25-yard field goal from Will Armistead.

With Homewood up 31-7 with seven minutes left, the next four minutes were calm as both teams assumed the game was over and Pelham’s season was done. It wasn’t.

The Panthers blazed down the field with 3:25 to go and capped the drive with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Mains to Brock Isbell. Vickery went for two, and Pelham succeeded to cut the gap to 31-15.

The ensuing onside kick failed, but Homewood quickly surrendered the ball and allowed Pelham to score another touchdown. The two-point conversion failed this time, but the Panthers trailed just 31-21 with 1:01 remaining.

On Pelham’s second try at an onside kick, it succeeded and gave the Panthers the ball on the Patriots 42, which became the 26-yard line after an unsportsmanlike conduct foul on Homewood on the first play of the drive.

While Pelham committed a holding penalty to back it up to a 2nd-and-22, Mains had a 19-yard completion to cut the distance to gain to just three yards. However, Mains needed to spike it on 3rd-and-3, and Pelham’s pass attempt on fourth down fell incomplete, sealing the 31-21 win for Homewood.

After the game, Vickery said that Homewood’s control of the ball in the first half threw off his game plan to start fast, and he said that sacks and missed tackles also made the difference on the night.

Despite that, he was proud of his team for staying in the fight even when things didn’t go to plan, and even though the comeback was ultimately unsuccessful.

“I think everything is a learning experience, and whether or not it made a difference for tonight, it makes a difference down the road,” Vickery said. “Kids see that if you keep playing, keep battling, you never know what may happen.”

Pelham will close region play next Friday, Oct. 27 against Chilton County in the Panthers’ final home game of the season. While Vickery and all of Pelham will honor their outgoing seniors, he took a second to recognize what this class means to the program.

“They’ve been great. They’ve done everything we asked them to do and then some,” Vickery said. “They all have bright futures and we’re very proud of them and where they’re leaving our program.”