Pelion learned late on Wednesday that its season-opener against Cardinal Newman in the Battle on the Bluff 10-team extravaganza would be played a day earlier than expected.
It might not have sunk in to the Panthers’ offense until around halftime on Thursday night they were playing in a game that counted. After being held to a negative 20 yards in the opening two quarters, Pelion found it’s stride to gut out a 14-6 victory against the Cardinals in the opener of the five-game, three day event at River Bluff High.
Daniel Hawkins and Braxton Jones scored third-quarter touchdowns, and Quincy Kershaw intercepted three passes – two in the end zone, including the game-sealing pick with just over two minutes remaining – to rally the Panthers from a dismal first half.
“Cardinal Newman is a good football team,” longtime Pelion coach Ben Freeman said. “It was nice to see us come back against them.”
Cardinal Newman controlled the line of scrimmage in the first half and held Pelion to 10 offensive plays, but couldn’t create any separation on the scoreboard because of missed opportunities.
The Cardinals took the opening kickoff and drove inside the Panthers’ 5-yard line before missing a 25-yard field goal. After a short Pelion punt, they took over on the Panthers’ 37-yard line, but Kershaw ended the drive with his first interception.
Finally, the Cardinals cashed in on a 12-play, 94-yard drive that ended with an 8-yard scoring run by senior Trey Napper with 44 seconds remaining in the half.
Evan Moxie, who is filling in for suspended Cardinal Newman coach Brannon Tidwell, said the missed chances in the first half hurt. Tidwell is suspended for the first three games because of a misunderstanding of policy, according to Cardinal Newman AD Will Eudy.
“We had a lot of mistakes,” Moxie said. “The kids played hard, but too many mistakes to overcome. Pelion came out in the second half and got on a roll, got the momentum and we could never get it back like we had it in the first half.”
The key moment might have come on the fourth play of the second half. Pelion elected to go for it on a 4th-and-2 from its own 26-yard line. Hawkins ran a keeper and scampered 24 yards into Cardinal Newman territory. Six plays later, Hawkins scored on a five-yard run and the extra point gave the Panthers a 7-6 lead.
Jones scampered 48 yards on the next Pelion series for a little added cushion.
“It took us a while to settle down and to figure out what they were doing up front,” Freeman said. “It was a matter of us not reading our reads right in the first half. It was (Hawkins) first game at quarterback, but he settled down and made his reads and made some good plays. ”
Pelion finished with 176 yards.
“They didn’t do anything different,” Moxie said. “They ran their offense. I guess when your head coach has been there for 25 years, he’s going to do what he does. They started executing.”
Cardinal Newman reached the red zone twice in the final six minutes, but two interceptions kept them from scoring. The first came with 5:10 remaining when Jones picked off a pass at the six-yard line. Then after a short punt, the Cardinals were in a hurry-up offense despite having the ball at the Pelion 11-yard line with just over two minutes remaining when Kershaw picked off a Cam Tringalli pass in the end zone.
“I just broke on the ball,” Kershaw said. “I was going over what my coaches told me to do. I watched the ball and just made plays when we went to our man defense.”
Pelion standout wide receiver Freddie Phillips missed the game because of an injured right ankle.
CN – Trey Napper 8 run (run failed) 0:44
P – Daniel Hawkins 5 run (Donnie Barry kick) 6:48
P – Braxton Jones 48 run (Sami Bullock kick) 4:33
CN – Trey Napper 29-146, Cam Tringalli 1-(-5), Team 1-(-20). P – Daniel Hawkins 12-50, Ervin Green 10-57, Isiah Jenkins 5-17, Braxton Jones 3-53, Dayrun Keith 1-1, Team 2-(14).
CN – Tringalli 6-18-4-96. P – Hawkins 1-1-0-8
CN – Parker Dubois 3-49, Sean Garrity 1-30, Goodsen Michel 1-10, Cameron Napper 1-0.