LAUREL — Although they gave up 27 points to defending Class 5A State Champion Laurel, Petal’s defense stepped up when it mattered most.
Both teams, which entered the game with matching 1-2 records, needed a win Friday. But it was the Panthers that got it by a score of 28-27.
“It’s a huge confidence-builder going forward into our bye week,” Petal head coach Marcus Boyles said. “Huge to just enjoy the win during the bye week and to help get some guys healthy going forward.”
Petal’s offense was led by its bruising offensive line and do-it-all running back, Stephon Huderson. Boyles and the Panthers leaned on Huderson heavily and it paid off. He finished with 34 carries for over 250 yards and three touchdowns.
Laurel countered with a lethal passing attack, as Keon Howard started off slowly but gained confidence as the game went. He went 17-of-35 for 317 yards and four touchdowns, three of which went to tight end Octavious Cooley.
“Both teams played hard, but in the end they made more plays than we did,” Laurel head coach Todd Breland said. “We just didn’t make enough plays tonight and credit them, they’re a good football team.”
Laurel carried a 20-14 lead into halftime.
But Petal made several adjustments defensively at intermission and it paid dividends as they held Laurel to just 7 second-half points.
“Great job at halftime by our coaches really,” Boyles said. “But a great job by our kids to understand the changes we made and my hats off to the defensive coaches and players.”
Samuel Hopper’s 20-yard touchdown pass to Nigel Wood gave the visitors a 21-20 lead midway through the third quarter. Following a Tornado touchdown, Huderson rumbled into the end zone from 10 yards out, giving the Panthers the lead for good with 10:38 left in the game.
Despite the improved Panther defense and debilitating penalties, Laurel still had a chance to take the lead late in the fourth quarter — twice.
The first opportunity came on a drive that ended in a field goal attempt. A snap over the head of the holder resulted in Petal taking over with under 2 minutes left. But a Huderson fumble gave Laurel another chance.
The Tornadoes drove to the Petal 10-yard line when Breland tried to call a timeout. But Laurel had already used its timeouts. The result was a 10-yard penalty, and on the next play, the Panthers blocked the Tornadoes’ field goal try to seal the victory.
Both teams have faced tough schedules so far, but Breland said playing a tough non-region schedule will pay off down the road.
“We are a good football team despite what our record says,” Breland said. “We have to look past it and continue to get better every single day. This is going to pay off in the long run.”