PICKERINGTON- With the Panthers of Pickerington North and the Raiders both finishing the first half of the season at 4-1, this set the stage for a marquee Week 6 matchup on Friday Sept. 29th at Pickerington North’s Homecoming game in what was also the OCC-Ohio division opener for both teams.
Although the Raiders fell behind big early, they managed to settle down before the Panthers ultimately capitalized on a few big plays in the second half and pulled away.
The Panthers (5-1, 1-0) ripped off a 59-yard run on the game’s opening play from scrimmage that led to one of their three first quarter touchdowns despite three interceptions caught by the Raiders defense in the period. The Raiders (4-2, 0-1) would settle in and cut the lead to 21-7 on a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Justin Henry midway through the second quarter. But they would come up empty on a few promising key drives early in the second half, while the Panthers capitalized and pulled away with two 3rd-quarter touchdowns as the Raiders fell by a score of 35-7.
“We had a poor start and that really hurt us,” Raiders head coach Buddy White said after the game. “At halftime, we thought we had some momentum. We figured out how to stop them and the offense all of a sudden started moving the ball. So we were feeling really good. But we had a poor start in the second half and then [the Panthers] scored, and we just didn’t get it done.”
The Panthers struck first with a 19-yard touchdown pass just 1:10 into the game, while the Raiders went three and out on their opening drive. Ke’Shun Moorer would then intercept Panthers quarterback Jimmy Weireck at the Raiders 29, while Courtland Bullard followed suit on the next drive. Both resulting Raiders drives were three and outs, and despite a Gabe Philhower punt rolling to the Panthers 14, the Panthers would score on an 86-yard touchdown run on the first play of the ensuing drive to take a 14-0 lead with 4:48 left in the 1st quarter.
The Raiders would again go three and out, but Weireck would throw his third interception of the first quarter to Mershawn Rice on the Panthers’ next drive. Henry would then throw his first interception of the year to give the Panthers good field position, and they would cash in on a 2-yard touchdown run to take a 21-0 lead over the Raiders after the first quarter.
“They were scoring because we were missing tackles,” White said of the Panthers’ lead at that point. “It wasn’t that they were out-scheming us or anything; we just were missing tackles and we weren’t climbing onto the linebackers on our blocks on the offensive end. But once we had a couple of good things happening [in the 2nd quarter], that’s when our guys settled down.”
Both teams would go three and out to open the 2nd quarter, though it was the first three and out forced by the Raiders defense. The offense would move the chains for the first time on an 18-yard run by running back Guy Cowans-Wright with 7:25 left in the 2nd quarter to give the Raiders a spark. It definitely worked, as Henry would complete a 39-yard pass to receiver Princeton Hoskins to get into Panthers territory for the first time of the night. Cowans-Wright would add another 14-yard run onto the drive, and a Panthers penalty tacked on 15 more yards to the end of the run.
The Raiders would eventually cash in on 1st and goal from the Panthers 1 on a touchdown run by Henry to cut the Panthers’ lead to 21-7 with 5:28 left in the half.
Weireck would run for 52 yards on a quarterback keeper for the Panthers on the following drive, but the Raiders defense would get a stop on 4th down on their own 22 and take over with 2:58 left in the half. With the Raiders receiving the second half kickoff, the Raiders had a good opportunity to trim the Panthers lead to a touchdown on the ensuing drive. Henry almost completed a deep pass to Rice who would have likely ran it for a touchdown from about the Panthers 25, but the pass just fell incomplete and the Raiders came up empty on the drive. The Raiders trailed 21-7 at the break as a result.
After receiving the second half kickoff, the Raiders went three and out and appeared to force a three and out by the Panthers. Pass interference was called on the Raiders in the end zone, and on the very next play, the Panthers threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to take a 28-7 lead with 9:43 left in the 3rd quarter.
The Raiders would then drive all the way to the Panthers 7, with Henry converting a 4th and 10 on a 13-yard pass to receiver Andree Mock in the process. But Henry was sacked on 4th and 4 with the offense still on the field, and the Raiders would come up empty. Weireck would then complete a 73-yard pass for the Panthers on the first play off the turnover on downs, and then extend the lead to 35-7 over the Raiders on a 15-yard touchdown pass with 3:06 left in the 3rd quarter.
Cowans-Wright would then rip off a huge run up the middle into Panthers territory on the next Raiders drive, and appeared to have an uncontested path to the end zone. But a Panthers defender eventually caught up to him, punched the ball out of his hands from behind, and this led to a fumble recovered by the Panthers.
It was the first lost fumble of the season for the Raiders.
“They probably feel as bad about that as anyone else,” White said of Cowans-Wright on the fumble and also of Rice on the incomplete pass from earlier. “But we’re not going to dwell on it. We’ll point to it and say, ‘fellas, these are called opportunities, and we didn’t take advantage of those opportunities’. Mershawn [Rice] catches that pass, all of a sudden it’s 21-14 and we’re looking at a whole different ball game. Guy [Cowans-Wright] holds onto the ball, it might be 28-14, and at that point you never know.”
The Panthers would slowly run the clock out from there while keeping the Raiders off the scoreboard the rest of the way, snapping the Raiders’ 4-game winning streak.
Although the mood after the game was understandably somber, and despite their first loss since their season opener at New Albany, the Raiders know they are still alive in a packed Division 1 Region 3 playoff race. The focus immediately shifted to Homecoming against Gahanna-Lincoln on Friday Oct. 6th against a similarly hungry Lions team coming off 45-8 home loss to Pickerington Central.
“Our goal is that we want to get into the playoffs,” White would go on to say. “We know that a 3-2 record in league play will get us until the playoffs. So the next game is critical and the kids know it. We’re not going to sit here and dwell on this game, because Gahanna’s coming into town next week and they’re not going to be feeling real good about themselves either. So it’s going to be fun to prepare for this week being our Homecoming game, and we’re going after Gahanna.”
KEY RAIDERS STATS:
-Total Yards: 189 (72 pass, 117 rush)
-Total Yards Allowed: 503 (157 pass, 346 rush)
-Passing: Justin Henry (5/23, 72 YDS)
-Rushing: Guy Cowans-Wright (14 CAR, 88 YDS, 1 FUMBLE LOST); Justin Henry (16 CAR, 25 YDS, 1 TD)
-Receiving: Princeton Hoskins (3 REC, 58 YDS, 1 TD)
-Defense: 7 tackles for loss, 3 first-quarter interceptions (Ke’Shun Moorer, Courtland Bullard, Mershawn Rice)
-Special Teams: Gabe Philhower (1/1 XP)
DIVISION STANDINGS + UNOFFICIAL PLAYOFF RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 6:
NOTE: The top 8 teams in each region qualify for the 2017 OHSAA playoffs following Week 10. All OCC-Ohio teams are in Division 1 Region 3 except for Gahanna-Lincoln, which is in Division 1 Region 2. (The +/- number after a team’s Region denotes the change in its Region playoff rankings from the previous week.)
These unofficial playoff standings are compiled regularly by Joe Eitel (joeeitel.com; @JoeEitel).
1. Pickerington North (5-1, 1-0, #4 Region 3, +0)
2. Pickerington Central (5-1, 1-0, #5 Region 3, +4)
3. Lancaster (4-2, 1-0, #13 Region 3, +0)
4. Gahanna-Lincoln (4-2, 0-1, #4 Region 2, -2)
5. Reynoldsburg (4-2, 0-1, #10 Region 3, -3)
6. Grove City (1-5, 0-1, #15 Region 3, +0)
The Raiders (4-2, 0-1) will look to bounce back on Homecoming against Gahanna-Lincoln (4-2, 0-1) in a critical division game in the Region 3 playoff race. The Raiders have recent experience with a high-stakes division game of this nature, winning at Gahanna-Lincoln 25-18 last season.
Kickoff against the Lions is at 7:00pm on Friday 10/6.
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