Handicapped by a plethora of injuries and an inept second half, the Leesville football team blew an early lead and fell to Panther Creek, 34-21, on Friday, Sept. 20.
Braxton Berrios, senior quarterback, was sidelined late in the first half with an undisclosed foot or ankle injury, leaving Mason Pyper, junior, to carry the quarterback duties for the remainder of the game.
Despite holding an 18-0 lead during the second quarter and an 18-7 advantage at halftime, the Pride collapsed in the second half under the steady attack of the upset-hungry Catamounts.
“We didn’t do a good enough job in the second half,” said Chad Smothers, head coach. “We’ve got different weapons on the field…and we’ve got to do better with the players we’ve got. We should’ve been able to come out and function offensively, and we should’ve played better defense.”
The Leesville defense was unable to contain Panther Creek’s Dorrel McClain throughout much of the night. McClain racked up 214 rushing yards and 69 receiving yards in his four-touchdown performance, scoring three times in the fourth quarter alone to give the Catamounts a lead they would never relinquish.
Berrios finished with 95 rushing yards and 20 passing yards for the Pride; Mike Dehaney, junior running back, registered 82 yards on 16 attempts. Dehaney was essentially the only Leesville offensive player able to gain any traction after the break, as Pyper (3-for-7, one interception) struggled to move the ball through the air.
A clearly frustrated Smothers echoed his displeasure after the game. “We’d get sparks when it looked like we were getting ready to start clicking and rolling, and [then] we’d have a couple of negative plays to put us behind the chains and we’d end up with fourth down and long…again.”
Berrios and Malcolm Hitchcock, senior, tallied two touchdowns for the Pride in the game’s fruitful opening quarter. The Pride were able to hold that lead until the fourth quarter, but McClain’s explosiveness allowed Panther Creek to surge ahead 28-18 with six minutes to play. Parker Yount, junior kicker, tacked on a 22-yard field goal to bring Leesville back within one score, but a costly fumble and ensuing touchdown in the closing minutes sealed the Catamounts’ victory.
The defeat marks Leesville’s first regular season home loss since Nov. 6, 2009, ending a 17-game regular season winning streak at Marshall L. Hamilton stadium. The Pride will kick off their Cap-8 conference schedule against Heritage next week before returning home against Broughton and Sanderson on Oct. 4 and 11, respectively.
“We’re going to watch film, try to correct what we can correct, move some people around, and get on the bus and go play football at Heritage,” said Smothers. “It’s just what we’ve got to do.”