Captain Shreve’s defense managed to create some favorable situations and take away key parts of Parkway’s game plan Friday night.
So the Panthers (5-1, 2-1 District 1-5A) turned to their other weapons and came through when they needed it most in a 49-23 rout, extending their win streak against the Gators (4-2, 0-2) to nine games. Quarterback Justin Rogers guided his offense to touchdowns on its first four drives, converting four third downs and one fourth down along the way.
“They made it hard for us to run screens,” David Feaster said. “They made it hard for us to run our buck sweep around the end. Anything we were trying to run wide, they were pretty much shutting down.”
Instead, Robert McKnight and especially E.J. Williams ran mostly up the middle, with McKnight breaking through tackles for a 36-yard run and Williams finding a hole for a 46-yard run in the first quarter. Both would add rushing touchdowns in the second quarter as Williams finished with 117 yards and McKnight added 75.
They made up for a relatively quiet night from five-star receiver Terrace Marshall, who faced double teams much of the game. But he still finished with six catches for 95 yards and made some critical plays, including a 32-yard reception in double coverage and a 27-yard touchdown late in the first half.
Shreve’s offense gained some confidence by keeping up with the Panthers early thanks to a short field after a long kick return and an impressively deceptive trick play. Lucas Grubb intentionally bounced a lateral to Cam Davis, then the Gators acted as if the play had been blown dead before Davis threw to a wide open Stephen Smith for an 86-yard touchdown.
“We told the ref before the game the first play of the second drive we’re going to do it,” Shreve coach Bryant Sepulvado said. “You have to so they don’t blow it dead.”
Feaster said the perfectly executed “Aggie pass” he saw back when he played in high school woke up his defense, led by seniors Nick So’oto and Tony Beckwith on the defensive line. Linebacker Caleb Reese intercepted a Lucas Grubb pass to help the Panthers score 42 consecutive points before a safety in the fourth quarter cut their lead to 49-16.
Standout linebacker Ashton Lacaze and the Captain Shreve defense put some pressure on Rogers, even picking up three sacks. But more often, the athletic junior found a way to escape and reeled off some spectacular runs, highlighted by a 25-yard third-quarter touchdown.
The Gators secondary got lucky to not give up more than 157 passing yards to Rogers and just 31 in the second half, when Sepulvado said some key injuries to defensive backs left them vulnerable. Rogers demonstrated his incredible arm strength by throwing the ball well over 40 yards in the air on multiple occasions, only to see receivers drop passes and a 62-yard touchdown called back because of an illegal man downfield.
His ability and willingness to spread the ball around will be critical to Parkway’s success later this season, when opponents figure to do whatever it takes to limit Marshall’s effectiveness. All year the Panthers have displayed plenty of other weapons, and Feaster said former Evangel wide receiver turned defensive back Johnathan Jones could be added to the mix more often after an eye-opening catch-and-run for a 25-yard touchdown on a pass from Amani Larry for Parkway’s final touchdown.
“It’s just a matter of figuring out where to put him in because we like our guys,” Feaster said. “We like our tight ends and our wingbacks and our slot backs and all that other stuff, but there’s no doubt that Johnathan needs the ball some.”
The No. 7 Panthers will perhaps have the opportunity to experiment next week when they’ll be heavy favorites against non-district foe Booker T. Washington. Meanwhile, things could get even tougher for the Gators as they go on the road to face No. 6 Evangel, who won at Parkway 45-8 two weeks ago.