Hayden Tigers overcome Panthers in season-opener; collect first win
Hayden — Hayden quarterback Garrett St. Clair fought back tears Friday as he tried to find the words to describe what the Tigers’ 12-6, season-opening victory over the visiting Nederland Panthers football team meant to him.
“I’m just speechless,” St. Clair said as he was overcome with emotion. “It’s hard to come off a season like we had last year. We didn’t play good at all last year … I’m just glad we have a lot of leaders on this team, and now, we are just going to go for two wins in a row.”
If nothing else, last year’s 1-7 campaign left this year’s squad hungry for success, but Friday, the team nearly let victory slip away in the final minutes. A solid defensive effort that defined the night and two costly mistakes by Nederland in the closing minutes, however, helped the Tigers secure their first win of the season.
“We took our lumps last year, but it’s paying off right now,” head coach Ryan Wilkie said. ”We are excited to see where we can go with this group. You saw our seniors carry us tonight, and they did a hell of a job. These kids have been busting their butts, and it shows.”
The coach acknowledged that Friday’s game wasn’t always pretty. The Tigers fumbled the ball five times and lost three, including one that set up the first touchdown of the game. One the other side, Nederland wasn’t much better, surrendering the ball four times.
Hayden’s third fumble of the game, more than midway through the second quarter, gave Nederland sophomore quarterback Damon Vigil the chance to throw a long pass to Trig Campbell, who scrambled into the end zone. The Panthers missed the extra point, but took a 6-0 lead with 5:23 left in the first half.
The Tigers responded on the ensuing kickoff with a 90-plus yard return by Tiger’s senior Christian Carson. After taking the ball at his own 5 yard line Hayden’s big back gained a head of speed and broke a couple of tackles before stepping out at the 5 yard line. Two plays later, however, he finished the job with the Tigers first touchdown of the season. Hayden also missed the extra point, but tied the game at 6-6 headed into the half.
The defenses on both teams dominated the first half of the game. Both Hayden and Nederland could only manage five first downs in the first half, as both squads struggled to get into an offensive rhythm. Nederland coach Aaron Jones felt as though his team had the edge for most of the first half and was thrilled with the way Vigil filled in for normal starter Jared Rasdall. Rasdall didn’t start Friday’s game after failing to log enough practices this season.
The coach acknowledged, however, that the long kickoff return was a turning point.
“We thought we could win the game on defense, but we let it all down on the kickoff,” Jones aid. “They couldn’t move the ball, and we were playing field position for most of the half.”
The Panthers offense was led by running back Kenny Shankey, who rushed for 112 yards on 20 attempts. The Panthers also got yards from Keyghan Otten, who had eight yards on three carries, and Caleb Pugmire finished with 14 yards on two attempts.
But it was a mistake by the Panthers’ offense that led to an opportunity early in the second half of the game that gave the Tigers the lead they so desperately wanted.
The Panthers received the second half kickoff and, following an offsides penalty charged to Hayden, seemed to be in perfect position to take control of the game. But Hayden’s defense came up big when Carson stripped the ball from Nederland’s Pugmire.
Carson finished the game with 16 tackles. Peyton Spafford had eight, and Daylon Frentress finished with seven. The Tigers’ offense was led by Frentress, who rushed for 52 yards on nine carries, and Carson, who finished the night with 40 yards and two touchdowns.
The fumble gave the Tigers the ball on the Panther’s side of the field, and Frentress made the most of the mistake by scrambling 20 yards to take the ball to the Panther’s 3 yard line. From there, Carson capped the drive with his second touchdown of the night. The Tigers attempted the two-point conversion, but failed.
The Panthers had a chance to get back into the game late, but a couple of penalties nullified touchdowns.
The first was a holding call that brought back a long touchdown run. Then, with just over two minutes remaining, it appeared that Vigil had connected with his speedy wideout, Campbell, for a second time. But the Panthers were called for illegal procedure, and the touchdown was wiped off the board.
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