Miscues Hurt Panthers in District Opener against Pittsburg

(Photo by Adam Routon) Jeremiah Guenther making a tackle Friday night.

(Photo by Adam Routon) Jeremiah Guenther making a tackle Friday night.

Head coach Tim Billings knew that his team would have to play pretty sound football heading into their district matchup with the Pittsburg Pirates. During pre-district play, the Panthers impressed fans with a 4-1 record. Last year they also had a 4-1 record heading into district, however this year’s team has blown out opponents.

North Lamar showed they could score on a good defense two weeks ago when the Van Vandals came into R.L. Maddox stadium. North Lamar scored 42 points in that game against a really good defense. With District opponents such as Princeton, Paris High and Liberty Eylau on the schedule, North Lamar’s road to the playoffs is going to be challenging.

The surprise of the district this year has been the Pittsburg Pirates. Pittsburg entered Friday night’s game with North Lamar ranked in the top 15 in Class 4A in the state of Texas. Some polls have them inside the top 10 as well. Pittsburg went 5-0 in pre-district play. They would continue their undefeated streak as they knocked off the hometown Panthers by a score of 49-28.

Earlier in the week, coach Billings said that he hoped North Lamar could limit their mistakes and take advantage of Pittsburg mistakes. Neither of those things happened. There was opportunity, however.

(Photo by Adam Routon) Matt Gibbons waiting on a snap Friday Night.

(Photo by Adam Routon) Matt Gibbons waiting on a snap Friday Night.

Pittsburg quarterback Brian Baca struggled all night against the Panthers. In the first half he had only thrown for 55 yards and had three turnovers. Baca threw an interception on their first series. Baca’s pass over the middle was nowhere near his intended receiver’s hands. It was, however, right to Menderiz Gray. Baca would also have two fumbles in the first half.

Pittsburg turned the ball over four times in all on the night. North Lamar could only cash in on one of those turnovers. Just a little over a minute into the second quarter, Baca dropped back to pass. As he does, his arm comes back and the ball flies out of his hands. Austin Exum recovers for the Panthers.

A couple of big plays later, including a personal foul face mask on the Pirates, set up North Lamar inside the five yard line. Javon Franklin would find the end zone for the Panthers. That would be the only time they would capitalize on a turnover from the Pirates.

On the other side of the ball, North Lamar had their own problems hanging onto the football. North Lamar coughed up the ball five times on offense. Four of those turnovers were fumbles. Pittsburg cashed in on those mistakes to the tune of 28 points.

The first of those turnovers came on North Lamar’s opening drive. After Gray’s interception, the Panthers moved the ball down to the 21 yard line of Pittsburg. A bad exchange between quarterback Versache Buchanan and Ja. Franklin put the ball on the ground. The Pirates recovered and marched down for their first touchdown of the game.

The first half was a game unlike anything anyone was expecting. North Lamar held a 14-7 lead at the half thanks to a big play at the end of the half. With less than two minutes to play in the half, North Lamar had a first and 10 from their own 36 yard line. Buchanan dropped back to pass and threw to the right side.

It’s unclear who the intended receiver was on this play. Sam Cowling was in the area. He jumped up to make a play. However, the ball went through his hands and fell right into the arms of Gray, who was about five yards further down the field. Gray turned around and put on the jets as he scampered to the end zone.

(Photo by Adam Routon) Menderiz Gray getting in position to make a play Friday Night

(Photo by Adam Routon) Menderiz Gray getting in position to make a play Friday Night

At the half, the stats were almost identical for both teams. North Lamar had 234 total yards of offense to 227 for Pittsburg. Pittsburg had three turnovers to only two by the Panthers. After scoring a touchdown to give them some momentum, North Lamar would also receive the ball to start the second half.

The first drive, however, did not go as planned for the Panthers. On the third play of the half, the Pirates’ defense took the ball right out of Ja. Franklin’s hands and ran the ball to the North Lamar 29 yard line. Four plays later, the score was tied at 14 after Tray Walker took the ball 17 yards for a touchdown.

North Lamar would answer on their next possession as Buchanan once again hooked up with Gray. This time it was a 46 yard pass that found its way into the end zone for North Lamar. Pittsburg would score on a 27 yard scamper by Baca.

With the game tied at 21, things were about to change for the Panthers. With the ball on their own 47 yard line, Buchanan dropped back to pass. The ball was thrown to the sideline incomplete. On the play, the Pittsburg defense was flagged for pass interference, giving the Panthers a first down. On the back side of the play, Versache took a hard hit at the end of the play and had to be helped off the field.

Matt Gibbons would come in to take over at quarterback. Gibbons, facing a fourth and nine from the 20 yard line would find Julique Franklin in the end zone for a North Lamar touchdown. North Lamar would enjoy a 28-21 lead going into the fourth quarter.

(Photo by Adam Routon) Julique Franklin with a catch Friday night.

(Photo by Adam Routon) Julique Franklin with a catch Friday night.

At the 10:55 mark of the final frame, Pittsburg would tie the score at 28 on a 10 yard run from Walker. Versache would return to start the next series for North Lamar. On the first play, he handed the ball to Menderiz. As he was fighting for more yards, the ball was knocked out of his hands. Fre’zarian Harrison picked up the ball for Pittsburg and went 40 yards the other direction for a touchdown. Just like that, North Lamar was now trailing for the first time since early in the second quarter.

Pittsburg would score twice more in the quarter to put the finishing touches on the game. Pittsburg had the ball seven times in the second half and they scored on five of them. One of the biggest differences in the game was the running attack for Pittsburg. Walker finished with 313 yards rushing on 39 carries. Baca had 122 on the ground on 18 attempts.

Meanwhile, the running game for the Panthers struggled all night against the defensive line up front. North Lamar only managed 40 yards on the ground on 28 attempts. North Lamar only averaged 1.43 yards per rush as opposed to 6.21 for the Pirates.

With the win, Pittsburg moves to 6-0 (1-0) on the season and the Panthers are now 4-2 (0-1). Next week, North Lamar will travel to Quinlan to take on Quinlan Ford. Kickoff is set for 7:30.

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