The Wildcats faithful had barely taken their seats and bit into their hotdogs when the Palatka Panthers scored on a 58-yard run the second play of last week’s game.
It could have turned into a very bad evening for the fans who traveled to Palatka the evening of September 28. But this was not the same team that was pummeled by the Tigers in Lake City. These Wildcats struck back and got a come-from-behind, 28-23 victory over the Panthers.
For the Panthers, it couldn’t have been a better start. After beating Bradford County in the opening game of the season, they were winless and desperately wanted to get back on the winning track.
They got the opportunity early as Jatwan Honor took the second snap of the game, broke into the clear and rambled 58 yards to pay dirt. The point-after gave the hosts a 7-0 lead.
It was a shock to the system of the Wildcats. But because it happened so early in the game, the visitors had time to regroup. Instead of being rocked back on their heels, they dug in their heels and marched 80 yards on the next possession.
Mike Boone, who had a great game running and receiving, gained five yards on the opening play. Corey Lawler continued where he left off the previous week and dashed for 10 yards, moving the Cats into Palatka territory with a strike over the middle to Blayne Merchant.A pair of Lawler runs took the ball to the 20 and three plays later Falon Lee touched the ball for the first time, running it in from five yards out. Lawler converted and BCHS took an 8-7 point lead.
The kicking game has been a thorn in the side of the Cats all season and the opening kickoff was shanked so that it resembled an on-side kick, giving the Panthers great field position. DeAndre Smith soon found Jaquille Melton for a 33-yard touchdown pass to put the Panthers back on top 14-8.
Things continued to look bad for the Cats in the second quarter as Palatka took the ball down the field. Palatka had no problems with its kicking game and Dalton Duty connected on a 39-yard field goal.
BCHS narrowed the gap to three points on an 80-yard scoring march near the end of the half. It was the passing game that clicked for the Wildcats against Palatka. Lawler had the best game of his career throwing the ball, going 15 of 18 for 146 yards. He connected with Logan Fox, Brandon Miller and Drew Rogers as the Cats moved steadily down field. Lee, who finished the game with 107 yards rushing on 14 carries, ran it in from 13 yards out. The conversion was no good.
The Panthers continued to have the run of play in the start of the second half. They marched 60 yards for a score despite what looked like a Cat fumble recovery. Natavian Griffin, who was the defensive star of the Clay game, continued his hard hitting form and forced a fumble that the referee awarded to lineman Cedric McCoy in the end zone. The kick was no good and the Panthers held a 23-14 edge.
All summer Coach Ryan Sulkowski preached about being the best conditioned team on the field and it began to pay dividends on a hot muggy night by the St. Johns River.
The Wildcats began to control the line of scrimmage. They got a great return to midfield and Lawler connected with Fox on a pair of throws to the Palatka five-yard line. Lawler rolled out and found Boone in the end zone. A pass interference call flawed the first attempt at a conversion, and the second chance to put the Cats within one point at 23-22.
The defense stiffened and shut down an obviously tired Palatka offensive line and after a punt the Wildcats marched 70 yards for the score. Lee ran the ball into Panther territory and Lawler found Boon in the endzone from 29 yards out for the winning touchdown. The conversion was no good.
Two big tackles from Griffin and Elijah Lee snuffed a Palatka drive to seal the game.
The Cats had a big night running the ball with 237 yards rushing on 41 attempts. The Panthers had 160 yards on 30 attempts.
Lee led the Cats with 107 yards on 14 carries while Lawler had 96 yards on 20 carries. Boone was the top receiver with 6 catches for 74 yards and 2 touchdowns. Fox had 4 receptions for 31 yards.
The Wildcats host the winless Paxon Eagles on Friday at Memorial Stadium.