Last Break: Panthers overcome a second half deficit against Houston to advance to Quarterfinals

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Photo by Thomas Sellers Jr.

Luck can go both ways on a November weekend on the gridiron.

Normally high school playoff games are played on Friday nights. But the Class 6A Second Round showdown between the Houston Mustangs and Bartlett Panthers took place Saturday night on the campus of Bartlett High School.

Having to suspend practice for two weeks because of a positive COVID-19 test, the Panthers arrived to the stadium a little rusty. Houston took took advantage of Bartlett being a step behind and a few Panther miscues to grab a second half 24-14 lead.

Bartlett didn’t submit to the double-digit deficit and rallied to overcome Houston 35-27 in overtime to advance to the Quarterfinals scheduled for next Friday against the Collierville Dragons. Bartlett earned the right to host the next round game.

“It’s a credit to the kids,” Bartlett Head Coach Lance Tucker said. “They just don’t quit. Obviously Houston wouldn’t quit either. We made a play at the end and they kind of got unlucky. It’s just the ball bounces all kind of crazy ways. What a high school game. What a high school game. I feel sorry for their kids because I’ve been there. But I am so happy for our kids. Just a great high school game.”

The Panther defense led by players like Orlando Moore Jr., Thomas Jones, Justin Jefferson and Bryan Whitehead Jr. matched Houston play for play in the first half.

Bartlett jumped ahead 7-0 less than a minute into the game after a Mustang fumble at the 13-yard-line. Panther senior running back Robert Giaimo raced to the end zone for the score.

Houston deadlocked the game at 7-7 at the 5:46 mark of the opening period when Ben Stegall scored on a 9-yard run.

Both teams managed a touchdown in the second quarter to have the halftime score 14-14. Bartlett reached the 14-point mark first when Walt Tucker hit wide out Ahmani Davis for a 10-yard TD reception.

Houston tied the game less than 3 minutes later at the 6:41 mark when Jaylin Momon broke loose for a 34-yard touchdown run.

Throughout the first half, Bartlett appeared a step behind but was able to overcome miscues and mistakes. But the first moments of the third quarter created a deficit for the Panthers.

“We hadn’t practice in two weeks,” Tucker noted. “And the defense hadn’t been with us for two weeks until this morning. We were a little slow but give them credit. They played great. The kids just hang in there and they played hard.”

But the end of the third quarter Houston was ahead 24-14 forcing the Panthers to have a “gut check.” After the Mustangs connected on a 22-yard field goal, Will Stegall added a touchdown late in the period.

The Panthers’ gut check began with a long drive down the field ending in the fourth quarter. With 8 minutes and 24 seconds remaining in regulation Giaimo capped off the drive with a 1-yard run. Bartlett pulled within 3 points to make the tally 24-21.

The Panther defense, back in rhythm, forced a Houston punt. Bartlett was determined to regain the lead and did just that when Dailan Jones raced to the end zone for a 29-yard scoring run with 2:49 left of the clock.

Now it was Houston’s turn to overcome a late deficit trailing 27-24. Houston led by quarterback Will Stegall marched down the field setting up a field goal. The 23-yard attempt was good was time expired off the clock.

In overtime the Panthers had the first set of downs from the 10-yard-line. After a couple of plays Bartlett crossed the goal line courtesy of Giaimo from 3-yards out. Coach Tucker called for a two-point conversion attempt to placed the pressure on the Mustangs.

After a penalty moved the ball a yard away, Walt Tucker handed the ball to a leaping Giaimo for the successful conversion. The Panthers were ahead 35-27.

Then it was Houston’s turn to have the all at the 10-yard-line. The full woke Panther defense forced the tempo and stopped the Mustangs to step up a fourth down situation.

Houston’s season came to an end when a bad snap forced Stegall to retreat. The Panthers led by Moore had ample time to sack the quarterback.

“These two teams could play 100 times and we’d win 50 and they’d 50,” Tucker concluded. “We just happen to come out on top tonight.”

Bartlett will move on to host the Collierville Dragons in the Class 6A Quarterfinals. The Dragons earned a 30-20 win over Arlington Friday night to advance.

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