Panthers keep on swinging

Published 7:00 pm Sunday, November 28, 2010

“Keep On Swinging.”

Brookhaven’s patented battle cry sliced through the cold nightair and the Panthers knocked out another heavy favorite in theClass 5A state football playoffs for a third straight week. Therewas no shortage of suspense or excitement on frosty King FieldFriday night.

There were lead changes, big plays, heroics by both teams andmany smashing hits on defense, compliments of the resurgentPanthers. Ole Brook fans swarmed the field after the second attemptat a game-winning field goal by West Jones fell short of itsmark.

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Senior linebacker Jacoby Cooper limped toward the bleachers inthe North end zone to enjoy the serenade provided by the BHS band.Nursing a gimpy right leg, Cooper had made a game-saving tackle atBrook’s 30-yard line as the Mustangs fought for survival on alast-ditch drive. He had to be helped off the field.

“I feel better now that we’ve won,” said Cooper, his No. 3jersey covered with mud. “Our team just kept swinging and swinging.We never gave up.”

Crowned Cinderella of the 2010 state playoffs, the Panthers(9-4) are headed for a state championship showdown against WestPoint Saturday night at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium inJackson. Kickoff is 7 p.m.

BHS senior center Mitch Case grinned broadly and shared hisfeelings as he was congratulated by well-wishers. “We surprised theworld. Nobody expected us to win but we knew it was going tohappen.”

Quarterback Duwone Harris threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to tightend Nick Peavey for the tying touchdown with 29 seconds left toplay. Dewey Stailey’s extra point split the uprights and thePanthers owned their 1-point margin of victory.

Harris was mobbed by fans who took turns hugging him and posingfor pictures with the hometown hero. He produced anotheroutstanding game, rushing for 172 yards and a touchdown. He alsopassed for 165 yards and 2 TDs.

“It feels so great,” said Harris. “We got down but we had tokeep swinging.”

Harris and running back Travorius Showers kept the West Jonesdefense on its heels with their explosive runs. The Mustangs hadallowed just 80 points in 12 games entering the rematch. Includedwas a 31-0 win over BHS back on Sept. 24, at Soso, a Laurelsuburb.

The Panthers were slowed by injuries in late September andHarris was recovering from a separated shoulder. They lost to WayneCounty 27-20 the next week and their record slipped to 2-3 on theseason. They were 0-2 in the tough Region 3-5A race. To theircredit, they stuck together, got healthy and steadily improved,gaining the No. 4 seed out of the region.

Ole Brook head coach Tucker Peavey smiled with satisfaction ashe reviewed the game and answered questions from the media. “I feltlike we could have a pretty good team this year. When we finallygot healthy, things started to get better.”

In their second meeting, part of the game plan was to use twotight ends against WJ’s swarming, stunting defense. “We made theirdefense balance out,” said senior tight end Nick Peavey.

Senior left tackle Stone Underwood smiled when asked about thestate championship opportunity. “It’s unreal; like a dream cometrue.”

At times this season, it appeared the Panthers were unable tomuster a passing attack. Opponents thought they could concentrateon defending the run and put eight players in the box.

“We threw it effectively early,” said Coach Peavey. “Then itcame down to blocking and tackling.”

For sure, the Panthers blocked and tackled with intensity. Theyalso blocked field goals and extra points. That became decisive ina close contest.

Defensive back Greg Sims broke through and blocked a Mustangfield goal attempt by strong-legged kicker Hunter Estess. JonahHill caught the block in midair and returned it four yards.

Later, after West Jones had moved ahead 26-20, Thevis Cooperbroke through the line and blocked the PAT kick by Estess.

Peavey said he stresses special teams. “We study it and work onit a lot in practice.”

Destiny belonged to the Panthers Friday night as Estessattempted a 47-yard field goal with just three seconds left on theclock. It was short and right of the goal posts.

Fans and players rushed the field and began celebrating the BHSvictory.

Wait a second! Hold everything!

The referee tossed his yellow flag and penalized BHS for runninginto the kicker. Five yards closer and with no time left on thescoreboard, Estess tried a 42-yarder.

“I like to have had a heart attack,” chuckled Peavey.

Estess got his foot into the ball. Someone yelled, “It’sgood!”

The football appeared on target as it tumbled through the frostyair but it began hooking and sailed outside the left upright.Ironically, the football landed in the end zone, near the No. 53painted on the grass in memory of Sawyer Dyess, a sophomorelinebacker who died in an auto accident July 25.

The season was dedicated to Dyess and players wore an “SD”sticker on the back of their blue helmets.

He must have been watching over the Panthers Friday night.

Write to sports editor Tom Goetz, c/o The DAILY LEADER, P.O.BOX 551, Brookhaven, MS 39601 or