Pelham fights through adversity in senior night win against Chilton County

Published 10:46 pm Friday, October 27, 2023

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

PELHAM – In a passing of the torch on senior night at Pelham High School, Pelham senior quarterback Clayton Mains got to see a lot of his hard work pay off right before his eyes despite the final home game of his senior year being cut short due to injury.

After taking a hit late in the first half, Mains returned in the second half on crutches with his team up 17-7 and freshman quarterback Dylan Smith taking the reins.

The young quarterback, however, seemed primed for the moment, even after Chilton County took its first drive of the second half down the field and scored to cut Pelham’s lead to three points.

The Panthers faked a punt at one point, which led to the first opportunity for Smith, who threw dime to Tristan Darden for a touchdown that put Pelham back in front 24-14 with 4:41 to play in the third.

“Dylan Smith is a ninth grader who came in and played a great second half, but that’s the product of playing and learning behind a senior leader like Clayton,” head coach Mike Vickery said after the game. “Clayton’s taken him under his wing. Our coaches do a great job and our players do a great job too. Clayton did a great job of preparing him, showed him the way and was cheering him on the whole time. Dylan has a bright future and a lot of that is because of No. 15.”

That first touchdown pass set the stage for a wild second half.

Chilton County answered shortly after with a touchdown of its own to cap off the third quarter, making it 24-21, but Pelham wasted no time responding.

Early in the final quarter, Mike Grays was able to bust a big run that he took 40 yards to the house for another Pelham touchdown that gave the Panthers their 10-point lead back with 10:44 to play.

Pelham’s defense then forced a quick punt from the Tigers, giving the ball back to the offense. The Panthers were unable to get into the end zone on the ensuing drive, but they tacked on three more to make it 34-21 midway through the fourth quarter.

Chilton County, however, put the pressure on Pelham with a big touchdown drive in quick fashion on the ensuing drive that rimmed the deficit to six points at 34-28 with 4:18 to play.

The Tigers forced Pelham into a fourth-and-25 punt from deep in their own territory, but a muffed punt prevented a return as Chilton started near midfield. Pelham’s defense, however, came up big again to get the ball back into the hands of the offense, who then ran the clock down and picked up the game-clinching first down to cement the 34-28 victory.

“I was very, very proud of our seniors,” Vickery said. “Anytime you win on senior night, doesn’t matter if you’re 10-0 or 0-10 going into the game, it’s a huge win on senior night on your last time on your home field.”

Pelham fell behind early in the game, but the Panthers rebounded quickly from the slow start.

Chilton County came out firing offensively early in the opening quarter with big pass plays down the field that ultimately led to an early lead.

The Tigers had one deep touchdown pass called back due to an ineligible man downfield but went right back to it on the next play to get deep pass that set them up in Pelham territory.

Shortly after, on third-and-11, Chilton County threw a touchdown pass into double coverage that Demarcus Riddick came down with to make it 7-0 with 5:53 left in the opening quarter.

Pelham, however, put together a long drive to answer.

On fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line, the Panthers punched in the short touchdown run from Bishop Rellah to make it 7-7 with 7:40 left in the half.

That was the start of an explosive second quarter for the Panthers.

After failing to recover an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, they went to work defensively and got the ball back to the offense.

In a chaotic stretch, Pelham eventually put together a nice drive that was capped off by a long touchdown run from Kalib Porter to give them 14 unanswered and a 14-7 lead with 4:12 left in the half.

Pelham attempted another onside kick that they didn’t get, but again, a sack from senior Will Felton on third down forced another punt from the Tigers.

The Panthers were able to get deep into Chilton County territory behind a physical run that ultimately hurt Mains and then a big pass over the middle. They weren’t able to punch in the touchdown, but a field goal as time expired put Pelham in front 17-7 at the half.

Then, with the leadership of Mains from the sideline and the poise of a freshman quarterback, Pelham stepped up as a team and was able to withstand a hard-fought second half to pick up the victory.

Pelham improved to 5-4 on the season with the win and finished region play 2-4. The Panthers will now close the season with a road trip to Spain Park next week.