For Petal head coach Marcus Boyles it did not matter how close the regular season contest between the Panthers and Brandon Bulldogs was six weeks ago. What mattered was how it ended tonight. It ended pretty well as Petal once again stood tall when the buzzer sounded, allowing 14 points and walking away with a 27-14 victory that sends them to the 6A South State Championship against long-time rivals Oak Grove.
"We wanted to come out and play the way we've been playing the past few weeks. The first game had no bearing on this game and that's what we told the kids. It didn't matter to us. The only thing that the game did was allow us to host this one. That's what mattered. So all we had to do was win this ball game," said Boyles.
Petal went three-and-out on their initial drive to start the game, but the defense gave them the ball back with 8:31 to play when they forced a turnover on downs after a fumbled Brandon snap. That led to senior quarterback DeCarlos Nicholson finding Jonathan Harris for a 62-yard pass completion. Petal moved to the one-yard line where Nicholson snuck in for a touchdown. A Nate Jones PAT gave them a 7-0 lead.
Brandon responded by moving the ball down the field in four minutes punctuating the drive with a one-yard Ozzario Smith run, tying the game 7-7 after the PAT.
The Panthers took little time to go back to the lead over Brandon as Nicholson found Rashad Handford for a 40-yard touchdown with less than a minute to play. The PAT gave Petal a 14-7 lead.
In the second quarter, the Petal defense tightened while Jones added a field goal to the Panther lead and Nicholson threw his second touchdown of the evening, connecting with Jeremiah Robinson for a 23-yard touchdown.
Petal entered the halftime break with a commanding 24-7 lead.
The Petal defense stiffened even tighter through the third quarter, allowing no Brandon points while forcing another turnover on downs and a punt.
Brandon managed to put a touchdown on the board with a little over seven minutes remaining in the game as Rogers found Ashton Nickelberry for a 40-yard touchdown to draw within 10, 24-14.
Jones put another three points through the netting to give Petal a 27-14 lead on a drive that featured a 62-yard pass to tight end Landon Easley that set up the kick.
With little time remaining, the Panther defense tightened up to force a turnover on downs in their own territory.
"Our defense has played this way for several weeks now. It was just another great performance by them. This is the thing though, they are getting locked in on Monday. Our defensive coaches are coming up with great game-plans over the weekend and our guys are buying in and executing it to play at a high level," said Boyles.
Boyles also spoke highly of his offense and Nicholson who came up with big-time passes throughout the game.
"DeCarlos played extremely well and made some big throws for us. He did a good job when he had to. We had some RPO's where he gave the ball off instead of taking for himself and they were great decisions."
Petal (12-1) will host Oak Grove (10-3) for the 6A South State Championship game with a trip down the road to M.M. Roberts Stadium for the 6A State Championship on the line. Petal defeated Oak Grove 21-7 in their regular-season match-up. Petal and Oak Grove are tied 18-18 all-time against one another.
Player of the Game
DeCarlos Nicholson’s three total touchdowns - one rushing, two passing - put Petal over the top and into the 6A South State Championship game.
Quote of the Night
“We’ve been hearing how much better they’ve [Oak Grove] got. We’ve been hearing it for weeks. Guess what? In seven days we get to see just how much better they’ve gotten. Because we are going to battle for 48 minutes.” - Head coach Marcus Boyles
To view and purchase photos from tonight's game, click here.