Pelham downs Wildcats for 3rd region title in school history

By CHRIS REIN | Special to the Reporter

PELHAM – The Pelham Panthers (7-1, 5-0) clinched the Class 6A Region 3 title with a 37-12 win over the Benjamin Russell Wildcats (0-4, 0-7) Thursday night, Oct. 8 at Ned Bearden Stadium. The title is Pelham’s first since 2006 and third in school history.

“Obviously it’s big,” Pelham head coach Tom Causey said. “I think it means a lot to our kids and our community, but this bunch I think they really understand we have a purpose. I want to see how good of a team we can be at the end of the year.”

Pelham distributed to ball to all of its playmakers, as quarterback Will Lankford ran 11 times for 31 yards and a touchdown, and was 2-of-7 passing for 69 yards and another TD. Slot back Darius Copeland ran six times for 75 yards and a score, and caught a 57-yard touchdown pass.

But the heavy lifters, as they have been all season, were the running back tandem of Dylan Peterson, who carried 12 times for 150 yards and a score; and Gabe Gamble, who ran for 116 yards on 13 carries with one touchdown.

Pelham again started fast in the first quarter, with Gamble’s 21-yard run weaving through the middle of the Wildcat defense on the opening possession.

Benjamin Russell drove the length of the field, but a big hit by Pelham’s Walker Lyles on a third-down pass breakup forced a 41-yard field goal by Campbell Woods.

On their next possession, the Panthers needed only two plays to extend their lead, with Copeland scoring on a 29-yard end around to make it 14-3.

But Benjamin Russell got back in the game on a two-play sequence in the second quarter. After the snap on a Pelham punt attempt sailed out of the end zone for a safety, Malcolm Simmons returned the ensuing kickoff 75 yards to make it an uncomfortably close14-12 halftime lead.

“Credit Benjamin Russell,” Causey said. “They came out and played like they were coming to knock us off, but we responded in the second half. I’m proud of them.”

Pelham stole a possession on the third quarter kickoff and never looked back. After Salvador Jimemez’s short looping kick checked up at the 34, Isaac Brechin grabbed the loose ball to give Pelham excellent field position. Seven plays later, Lankford carried it in from the 1-yard line and it was all Panthers from there.

After trading possessions, Pelham extended the lead when Dylan Peterson broke cleanly through the line and ran 57 yards untouched into the end zone, followed by Gabe Gamble running in the conversion to make it 29-12 and give Pelham a three-score lead at the end of the third quarter.

“(The offensive line) has been consistent all year long,” Causey said. “There’s times when they’re great, but they’re always good. We had one go down, and another guy slide in there and we never missed a beat. (Coach) does an excellent job with that bunch of guys. They’ve gotten better every week.”

As Pelham went to their ground game to run out the clock, and Benjamin Russel crowded the line, Lankford hit Copeland on a 57-yard quick slant for the speedy receiver’s second score on the night. Even a bad snap on the PAT couldn’t stop the Panthers, as Lankford scrambled to the end zone for two points.

Despite clinching the region title with three weeks left in the regular season, Causey said the Panthers’ approach won’t change.

“We want to be consistent in what we do…continue to get better and see what we can accomplish,” he said.

Pelham has a bye next week before closing out the region slate at home against Chilton County on Oct. 23. Benjamin Russell returns home to face Chilton County next week.