Perseverance leads to Nease playoff victory

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It has been a long journey, but the hard work and resilience the Nease football program has put in over the past couple of years is finally paying off, and in a big way.

The Panthers went on the road and defeated Port Orange Spruce Creek 24-21 in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs and appear to be hitting their stride at the most important time of the year.

It was the first playoff victory for the Panthers since 2008 and is a complete turnaround from the struggles they have endured in recent years.

With the win, the Panthers sit at a record of 8-3, which is two more victories than they had in the previous three seasons combined, which included a 1-9 campaign in Colin Drafts’ first year as head coach in 2019.

However, that rough period seems far in the past as this year’s squad has successfully breathed life back into the Nease football program and re-established a culture that reflects winning both on and off the field.

“It has been a crazy experience, because going 1-9 is not easy, but then to win our first playoff game in a lot of years,” senior receiver Dom Henry said. “It feels good just proving everybody wrong, because we’re not the same team from the past couple of years.”

Henry had a huge game with 254 receiving and two touchdowns on nine catches while his partner in the passing game, Marcus Stokes surpassed 2,000 yards through the air on the season.

Making the win even sweeter is the turbulent times that most of the team had to endure during their careers, especially the 36 seniors on the roster.

“We had the confidence coming in that we were going to win, because towards the end of the year our team has really started clicking on offense, defense and special teams,” junior kicker Cannon Kimball said.

Kimball kicked the game-winning 26-yard field goal with 18 second left that propelled the Panthers to the next round.

“When I was walking out onto the field, the last thing I remember is pointing to Dom Henry and he said, ‘you got this,’” Kimball said. “My mind went blank after that, which is a good thing for a kicker, because when your mind’s not in it, it’s almost automatic.”

According to Kimball, as soon as his foot hit the ball, he knew he struck it well and the result was the kick going right down the middle between the uprights.

So many factors go into making a kick, which is why Kimball was quick to thank long snapper Ethan Sheider and punter Evan Crenshaw for a perfectly timed snap and hold.

“The whole operation was one of the best we’ve had all year,” Kimball said.

Next up, the Panthers will travel to face Niceville (10-1) at 7 p.m. Nov. 19.

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