Twelve months ago, the North Lamar Panthers walked into the Van Vandals stadium with a 4-0 record. They walked out of the stadium realizing they weren’t as good as they thought they were after a 45-13 loss. North Lamar didn’t score a point in that game until the fourth quarter.
This season, North Lamar hosted Van at R.L. Maddox Stadium with an identical 4-0 record. Although the result was the same as last year, the Panthers should have a different mindset altogether after a 49-42 defeat. Coming into the game, head coach Tim Billings referred to the game as a “measuring stick” to see where his team stood after a 4-0 start.
“I felt like the positives tonight was that our kids stayed together,” Billings said after the game. “We grew as a team. We came closer as a team.”
There were many opportunities for North Lamar to fold as a team instead of growing. In the second quarter, North Lamar held a 28-14 lead over Van after two quick touchdowns. With the game tied at 14, Javon Franklin took a handoff from quarterback Versache Buchanan and went 61 yards for the score to put North Lamar up 21-14.
With the 28-14 lead, North Lamar looked to be in control of the ballgame with all the momentum. Van had yet to stop their high-powered offense. Just under the ten minute mark in the second quarter and the Panthers already had more than half of their game average on the season. North Lamar has been averaging just over 51 points a game.
However, only two times on their next seven possessions would North Lamar find the end zone. This, after their first four drives ended with seven points. On the five drives in which they didn’t score, North Lamar only ran a total of 27 plays.
As Billings said, though, instead of throwing in the towel and folding, the team grew together. They kept fighting. The final touchdown is proof of that. Trailing 49-35 with 4:20 left on the clock. Buchanan took the Panthers on a 12 play, 76 yard drive in three minutes.
After a negative play and a couple penalties, North Lamar faced a 4th and 25 from the Van 26 yard line. Buchanan dropped back to pass and bought some time, then threw the ball towards the right side of the end zone. The ball was batted in the air by a Van player at the goal line. However, Trey Scudder was right there to haul the pass in and bring the Panthers within one score.
The onside kick was no good for North Lamar and Van was able to run out the clock. However, North Lamar did improve by leaps and bounds over last year. In the game against Van a season ago, North Lamar only managed 221 total yards with 25 of them coming in the passing game. North Lamar had 262 yards of total offense in the first half Friday night, with 70 of them coming through the air. A year ago, the Panthers only had eight first downs as to opposed to 26 on Friday night.
The concern coming out of Friday night’s game might be the way the offense did stall in places.
“We had two third and shorts,” Billings said after the game. “We get neither one of them. Then we have first down inside the ten. We have a loss yardage play, fumble the ball and now all of the sudden we’re 4th and goal on the 19.”
The play referenced happened with North Lamar trailing 42-35 in the fourth quarter. North Lamar moved the ball down to the seven yard line. Facing a third and goal, Buchanan dropped back to pass. As he tried throwing the ball, it slipped out of his hand and rolled backwards. Buchanan fell on at the 19 yard line. The next play was a pass to the end zone. Ja. Franklin jumped up and caught the ball for what appeared to be a North Lamar touchdown. However, as he was coming down, a Van defender hit Franklin and the ball popped straight up and was caught by a defender for an interception.
Van would take their next possession 80 yards for a score to seal the victory.
“We have to be efficient,” Billings said. “Especially when we’re playing a team that is scoring every time they have the ball.”
North Lamar has a couple weeks to work on the efficiency before district play begins. The Panthers will be off next Friday night before welcoming the Pittsburg Pirates to R.L. Maddox stadium for their 2015 Homecoming game.