High School Sports

Perry pulls away for win over Veterans

Perry Panther Malik Mullins picks a big first down on second half action Friday night against Veterans High School.
Perry Panther Malik Mullins picks a big first down on second half action Friday night against Veterans High School.

A first quarter during which nothing seemed to go right turned into an ice bucket bath for Perry head coach Kevin Smith as the Panthers stormed back from down 14 points to pull away for a 31-20 victory over Veterans on Friday night at Herb St. John Stadium.

Perry (3-1) trailed by two touchdowns in a quick three-minute span, and it could’ve been three if not for a fourth-and-1 stand inside its own 5-yard line. The Panthers were still reeling with almost half of the second quarter gone when they found a way to flip the momentum on a 21-yard blocked punt return for a score.

After forcing another Veterans punt on the ensuing possession, Perry picked up its initial first down of the game on an 18-yard pass and then followed it up with a 40-yard run to set up a touchdown and a two-point conversion that tied the contest.

The Panthers managed a field goal on their opening possession of the second half for their first lead of the game only to see Veterans snatch it right back on a 75-yard Leyton Pinckney touchdown pass. But it was Perry that dominated the fourth quarter.

Freshman quarterback Lane Rucker had touchdown tosses of 5 and 66 yards, and the Perry defense came up with stops on two key fourth-down plays to secure the victory and continue what has been a successful start to the season for a program in its first year under Smith.

Three who mattered

Rucker: Perry’s freshman quarterback started the game 0-for-5, but he ended it by going 4-of-6 in the second half, including two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to give Perry the win.

Tyrell Owens: After losing yardage on his first four carries, the Perry tailback finished with 122 yards on his final 16 rushes to give the Panthers a much-needed ground attack.

Craig Luckey: Veterans’ workhorse in the backfield, the senior carried 32 times for 150 yards and a touchdown.

Turning point

Davion Ross’ 21-yard blocked punt return for a touchdown came at the perfect time for the Panthers. The home crowd had been taken out of the game after Perry’s offense had gone three-and-out on its first four possessions and Veterans had taken advantage of excellent field position for a two-touchdown advantage. Ross’ big return caused a noticeable shift in momentum that never seemed to leave the Panthers’ sideline.

Worth mentioning

Evening the rivalry: Perry’s victory on Friday night tied the all-time series rivalry with Veterans at four wins each.

Costly injury: The loss of star receiver Jeremy Horton to a broken leg was clearly evident as Veterans’ remaining receivers struggled to help out Pinckney to the tune of seven dropped passes.

They said it

Smith on his team’s resilience: “We preach that, because we’ve got to learn how to finish, and we’ve got to learn how to handle adversity. It’s been a process, and we’re not there yet, but we just beat a really good football team. Our kids played hard, and they deserved to win.”

Smith on the response of his defense after three quick drives by Veterans to start the game: “We just challenged them on the sideline. I was a little disappointed because I thought that we’d come out and throw the first punch, but Veterans threw a bunch before we punched back. I told our kids before the game that it was going to be a heavyweight fight and the last man standing was going to win. That’s what happened.”

Smith on the standout second half by Rucker: “He grew up. I told him at halftime after he missed a few reads that he ain’t done nothing wrong. ‘You’re a good quarterback. You go out there and show everybody that you’re a good quarterback,’ and he did.”

What’s next?

Veterans hosts Bainbridge on Oct. 6, while Perry travels to Dougherty on Thursday.

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