It was not the start to the 2022 season that the Nease Panthers football had hoped for or expected, as they fell in the opener 30-10 to Jackson High.
The Panthers fumbled a handoff on the first snap of the game at their own 25-yard-line and the Tigers recovered and scored a touchdown just a few plays later a 20-yard scamper by quarterback King Johnson to give them a 6-0 lead early on.
“You talk about shooting ourselves in the foot, we fumbled the first and then fumbled a kick return,” Nease head coach Collin Drafts said. “Every time you turned around they only had to drive 35 or 40 yards to score a touchdown.”
From then on, it seemed as if the Panthers were fighting an uphill battle throughout the night.
Both teams dealt with rainy conditions during the first half, and the wet ball led to several fumbles and dropped passes.
However, it was the Panthers that seemed to have misfortune in the game, as they lost a pair of fumbles in the first half.
Despite giving up 30 points in the contest, the Panthers defense played solidly and held their own, especially after having to defend a number of short fields on the night.
The Panthers were especially strong against the run and had made their presence known with some big hits on the night.
“We take pride in rallying to the ball and having 11 hats there on every play,” Nease junior linebacker Joe Miracle said. “That’s how we play Nease defense.”
Jackson led 12-0 at the end of the first quarter and 15-3 at halftime, with the Panthers lone points in the first half coming from the leg of junior Daniel Jones, who buried a 30-yard field goal.
The rain stopped for the second half and Nease’s offense was setup at Tigers’ 30-yard-line after an errant snap sailed over the punter’s head.
Marcus Stokes capped the drive with a quarterback power run from a yard out to cut the deficit to five points, 15-10, midway through the third quarter.
However, Jackson was quick to answer and drove down the field to score a touchdown of their own to extent their lead 23-10.
“We just couldn’t get the running game going,” Drafts said. “When it’s raining and you can’t run the ball, you’re kind of grasping for straws.”
Nease failed to convert a fourth-down play inside the Tigers’ 10-yard-line early in the fourth quarter and then the Tigers returned a Stokes interception for a touchdown in the final couple of minutes to put the result on ice.
“That’s a good (Jackson) team, and I knew this was going to be a test for us, but I just wish we could have put a clean executed game together to truly see where we stack up against a team like that,” Drafts said. “That’s far from what we did.”
Junior Zach Buttacavoli started the game for the Panthers at quarterback after Stokes dealt with not feeling good throughout the week and missed practice time.
However, Stokes entered the game on the second offensive possession of the game, but then dealt with cramping during the second half.
Junior Canon McClafferty intercepted a pass for the first turnover of the season for the Panthers’ defense.
Nease had a player only meeting on the field after the game with the entire team huddled around Stokes. The Panthers will lean on their leaders as they look to bounce back in week two.
“I think Monday, we’re going to be working at it as hard as we ever have,” Miracle said. “It’s all about playing physical and sound football.”
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