"Southern Choctaw 28- Excel 14"
To anyone in the state, that was just another score. But for 40 kids huddled around a radio inside of a dingy, smelly weight room, those words meant that they had accomplished one of their goals at the start of the season.
"These kids worked hard," said Keith York, coach of the Panthers. "They deserve a chance to go to the playoffs. I don't know what else to say right now we are excited. We are taking each game week by week and we are not going to overlook St. Jude. But this is a tough region. We have been scraping the door all season and now we have gotten in."
Last week, the Panthers dropped a crucial game to Excel that would have put them in the playoffs.
That loss forced tonight's showdown for the No. 4 slot in the region. But, there was a three-way tie for that fourth spot.
York and his Panthers knew coming into the game that they had to win and then wait for Excel to fall. That's the way the cookie crumbled.
The Panthers posted a 42-35 victory and Excel fell 28-14.
Douglas Stackhouse took a handoff from quarterback Joel Maye and raced around the right end of the offense until he was knocked out at the five-yard line. Stackhouse run was the first of many that he had during the night. He finished the game with 382 yards rushing.
On second and goal from inside the two, Maye pushed his way into the end zone to give the Panthers their first lead of the night.
The point after attempt split the uprights and Georgiana went ahead early, 7-0.
Their lead lasted through the kickoff.
Washington County lined up on offense at their own 36-yard line.
Bulldog quarterback Clint Wofford took the snap and handed off to 2003's 2A running back of the year, Tim Hicks.
Hicks lived up to the hype and carried the ball through the Panther defense for a 63-yard touchdown. They tacked on the point after and tied the score at 7-7. Hicks, not to be outdone by Stackhouse carried the ball for 280 yards.
The Panthers jumped ahead again after two long runs by Stackhouse.
Steven Campbell took the ball and raced his way into the end zone for the touchdown.
With 11:46 remaining in the first half, the Panthers were up by seven for the second time, 14-7.
Again, their lead withstood the ensuing kickoff.
On Washington County's fourth play from scrimmage, Hicks rambled his way into open field and across the goal line.
The point after tied the game at 14-14.
Washington County took their first lead of the night when the Bulldog defense forced a fumble from fullback Will Langham.
That set the Bulldogs with a first and 10 from around the 40.
Wingback David Humphrey touched the ball for the first time and showed the Panther defense that he was as big a threat as Hicks. Humphrey carried the ball twice before Hicks found the end zone for a touchdown.
The point after put Washington County up for the first and only time of the night, 21-14.
But, their lead, like Georgiana's previous two was short-lived.
The Panthers were stuffed on first down, but on second and nine from their own 40, Maye handed off to Stackhouse again.
Stackhouse raced down the field en route to a touchdown. With the PAT, the game was tied, again at 21-21.
The Panther defense makes an appearance late in the first half when they held Washington County to four downs.
On fourth and short, the Bulldogs tried to draw the Panthers offside. But the discipline of the squad in blue shown through.
The Bulldogs were forced to use a timeout and then elected to go for it on fourth down.
The choice proved to be wrong as the Panther defense stuffed the running back at the line of scrimmage and forced the turnover.
Two plays later, Stackhouse raced into the end zone again to get the lead back for the Panthers, 28-21.
The defense made another stand and had Hick stopped, but he found holes in the defense and ran through the secondary, down the sideline for the touchdown.
That tied the game for the fourth time of the night.
"We knew we had to win to get in, it turned out to be a shootout in the first half. We had a chance to score right before the half and didn't capitalize," York said. "We played probably the best four quarters of football we've played all year. Credit to the kids, they worked hard and stayed focused all week. We just executed tonight. I wish we hadn't gotten into a shootout. A true test of our character is the fact that we were hanging in there and fighting. When we'd score they'd score."
With under 3:00 left in the half, the Panthers and Bulldogs were tied at 28-28.
The score remained deadlocked at 28-28 as both teams made their way into the locker room for halftime.
The second half began as fast paced as the first half had been.
Humphrey takes the opening kickoff from the 25 yard line and races through the Panther coverage team down to the 15 yard line.
On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, Humphrey takes the handoff from Wofford. The counter play was designed for the wingback to go around the left end, but, when Humphrey's got there, he was met with resistance by members of the Panther defense, the wingback then changed his field and raced around the right end and into the end zone for the score.
Washington County split the uprights with the kick. For the second time of the night, the Bulldogs took the lead, 35-28.
The Panthers fought back and erased the Bulldog lead following a one yard dive into the end zone by Maye.
The point after was good and the Panthers tied the game at 35-35.
The scored stayed that way throughout the remainder of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter opened with the Panthers driving.
The drive ended when Stackhouse bounced a draw play outside the tackles and into the end zone for the touchdown.
The point after was good and the Panthers had a lead that the Bulldogs couldn't erase, 42-35.
With time running down in the game, the Bulldogs strung together a drive of their own. The drive stopped at the 15 where Hicks fumbled the football and it was recovered at the five by a Washington County defender. The only problem was that one of the officials got whistle-happy and blew the ball dead at the 15.
"They played hard and definitely outlasted us in the fourth quarter," said David Wofford, coach of the Bulldogs. "We got a couple of hurtful penalties that switched the tone of the game at the wrong time. Then we had the inadvertent whistle where we end with the ball inside the five but that brought it back to the 15 that put us in a tough situation. We should have capitalized but we didn't."
The Bulldog defense did not break the plane of the 15 yard line on four straight downs.
With time running out in the game, the Panthers stuffed Hicks and then Humphrey on consecutive plays. On fourth down, the Bulldogs elected to try a pass.
Wofford rolled around left end only to be centered by Cornelius Stackhouse and dropped giving the ball back to the Panthers.
From that point, the game was elementary. Georgiana took the field with their "game-winning offense" and kneeled the ball.
This win puts the Panthers in the playoffs and their first opponent will be state champion-runers up, Luverne Tigers.
"I'm just proud that these kids are getting the chance to go to the playoffs, they have worked hard to get to this point," said York.
Statistically, the two teams matched up.
Washington County finished the night with 352 yards of total offense, 330 of those yards coming from the ground.
Tim Hicks rushed for 228 yards and Humphrey carried the ball for 113 yards.
They had five penalties for 60 yards and no turnovers.
Georgiana had 473 yards rushing, led by Stackhouse with 382 yards. Langham also contributed with 10 carries for 66 yards.
a good job at getting his kids ready to play.