The Panther Press

Panthers Fall Short in Comeback Bid Against the Leopards

FootballGreg Higgins
(Photo by Adam Routon) Sam Cowling with a reception and touchdown against LE Thursday night.

(Photo by Adam Routon) Sam Cowling with a reception and touchdown against LE Thursday night.

It would have been really easy for the North Lamar Panthers to fold up shop on Thursday night. At the 9:05 mark of the 2nd quarter, the Liberty Eylau Leopards scored on a 4th and goal from the one yard line to make the score 28-0. The Panthers, already down a key defender in the game, were playing their backup quarterback Matt Gibbons.

Defensive standout Trey Scudder was sitting out the game due to an ankle injury he suffered against Quinlan Ford. He played against Princeton but was only about 70% according to head coach Tim Billings. Trey is expected back next week against Paris High.

Starting quarterback Versache Buchanan will not be back, however. On the second offensives series for the Panthers, Buchanan dropped back to pass. Finding no open targets, Versache was sacked by defensive end Lagaryonn Carson. Carson is a 265 pound junior who is committed to the University of Texas. Versache landed on his right arm and broke it. On Gibbons first play under center, he too would be sacked by Carson.

The scoring for LE started on the second play of the game. Lamont Byrd took the first play for a one yard gain. Quarterback Ke’Mon Freeman took the next play 77 yards to the house. Twenty nine seconds into the game and North Lamar already trailed 7-0. Four minutes later the Leopards would pad their lead as Byrd ran 24 yards for the touchdown.

By the second quarter, North Lamar looked finished. The game was getting out of hand and everyone started wondering what was going to happen. Obviously there was a lot of questions surrounding the quarterback position.

(Photo by Adam Routon) Javon Franklin (24) running through a block set by Menderiz Gray (9) Thursday night.

(Photo by Adam Routon) Javon Franklin (24) running through a block set by Menderiz Gray (9) Thursday night.

This game was nothing more than a measuring stick for North Lamar. How could they measure up against one of the best teams in the state of Texas? The real contest would happen next week. Paris, more than likely, was going to beat Quinlan Ford. This meant that no matter the outcome at R.L. Maddox stadium, next week’s showdown would be for a playoff spot. Win and your in, lose and you go home.

At 28-0, it would have been easy for the coaches and the players to start preparing for next week and give up. On the third play of the next drive, though, all of that changed. Facing a third down and 10 from their own 20 yard line, Gibbons connected with Sam Cowling for an 80 yard touchdown play. Cowling got behind the defense and Gibbons hit him at the 50 yard line. Cowling did the rest as he outran the defense to the goal line.

A bobbled snap on the extra point attempt caused the holder, Cowling, to improvise. He picked up the ball and ran around until he could pass the ball towards the end zone. He found Jake Stewart for the conversion. North Lamar seemed to have a little life on the field, on the sidelines and in the stands.

“We were out of it. It could have been a hundred to nothing,” coach Billings said. “We had a lot of younger guys come through for us. I was proud of them. It gives us something to build on.”

(Photo by Adam Routon) North Lamar's defense making a play on the LE running back.

(Photo by Adam Routon) North Lamar's defense making a play on the LE running back.

Even though LE would answer with a 60 yard touchdown pass on the third play of their next drive, North Lamar still had life. Behind Gibbons, the Panthers would march the ball down the field on their next possession. With 5:03 showing on the clock, North Lamar would score to make it a 20 point ball game. Gibbons, on a quarterback option, ran around the right side of the line. As he neared the goal line, he dove for the corner and hit the pylon for the score.

That would be the last score of the half due to poor clock management from LE. It wasn’t until the second offensive series of the third quarter that more points would be put on the board. The Panthers took over at their own 43 yard line after forcing the Leopards to punt the ball. North Lamar drove down the field in 11 plays. Facing a fourth and goal from the five yard line, Gibbons hooked up with Menderiz Gray in the corner of the end zone. The score was now 35-22.

The first round of the playoffs starts for us next week, and the first round for Paris, too.
— Tim Billings

After a great kickoff return, LE would take over at the 50 yard line. They moved the ball down to the North Lamar nine yard line. A holding call moved the ball back to the 19 and that set up Ty Waggoner. Freeman, under a lot of pressure by the Panther defense, decided to try and get rid of the ball. What appeared to be a little throw away pass turned into a touchdown for North Lamar.

With two defenders bringing him down, Freeman pitched the ball towards the sideline of LE. What he didn’t see, though, was Waggoner who picked the ball off and took it 85 yards for the touchdown. It was Freeman’s second interception of the night; both going to Waggoner. A Nick West extra point made it a six-point ball game. From the 9:05 mark in the second quarter to the end of the third quarter, North Lamar outscored LE 29-7, including 21 unanswered.

(Photo by Adam Routon) Matt Gibbons with a touchdown run in the second quarter Thursday night.

(Photo by Adam Routon) Matt Gibbons with a touchdown run in the second quarter Thursday night.

The Panthers were unable to cap off the comeback as LE scored two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter to seal the victory. With the loss, North Lamar is now 5-4 on the season and 1-3 in district play. Paris High defeated Quinlan Ford on Thursday, therefore, next week’s matchup at Wildcat Stadium is for a playoff berth. Pittsburg, Princeton and LE have all clinched. Either North Lamar or Paris High will join them.

“The first round of the playoffs start for us next week,” coach Billings said. “And the first round for Paris too.”

Kickoff is set for 7:30 on Friday night at Wildcat Stadium.