FULTON – The stage has been set for next Friday: undefeated Shannon High against undefeated Itawamba AHS for the Division 1-4A title.
Shannon did its part on Friday night by winning at New Albany. Here at Indian Stadium, Itawamba did its part by beating Pontotoc 16-13.
It wasn’t easy, however.
“If people didn’t get their money’s worth tonight,” said Itawamba head coach Jamie Mitchell, whose team improved to 9-0 overall and 4-0 in the division, “we need to recharge at the gate, I think.
“My hat’s off to Pontotoc. After a tough loss last week to Shannon … we knew they would give us everything they had. They played outstanding.
“I hate to see either team lose like this.”
Quarterback Maikhail Miller’s plunge from a yard out with 1 minute, 6 seconds left in the game gave the Indians the go-ahead score they needed to stay undefeated.
Pontotoc then failed to recover the ensuing kickoff as the Indians pounced on the ball at the Pontotoc 33, and it was just a matter of seconds before the IAHS student section started shouting, “We want Shannon,” and the IAHS locker room to turn into a club scene with music blaring and players dancing.
“We just didn’t get it done at the end,” said Pontotoc head coach Charlie Dampeer, whose team led 13-9 until the final minute.
In the beginning, Itawamba jumped out to a 9-0 lead in the first quarter before Pontotoc got its wheels going running the football.
Pontotoc had three rushes for minus-9 yards in the first quarter. To make matters worse, the Warriors’ first play from scrimmage resulted in a safety when running back Maurice Berry was hit by a swarm of IAHS defenders at the goal line.
Itawamba senior running back Deshawn McGaughy had a productive first quarter, rushing six times for 21 yards and a touchdown.
The next quarter was a different story: The Warriors rushed for 80 yards and a touchdown on 17 attempts; the Indians just had three carries for 15 yards.
Junior Randall Crayton rushed 10 times for 60 yards in the second period and scored on a 6-yard run to pull Pontotoc to within two, 9-7, with 53 secondsbefore halftime.
“We thought we were more physical than they were up front,” said Dampeer, whose team dropped to 7-2 and 2-2 in the division. “So, we thought we could run on them some.”
Dallas cowboys up
Pontotoc took the lead when Canden Dallas plunged in from three yards out with 3:11 left in the third quarter. Dallas had a nifty 29-yard run down to the Itawamba 2, seven plays before his TD run, but a block-in-the-back penalty brought the ball back to the 22.
A pass interference call against Itawamba moved the ball to the 12-yard line, and two runs by Crayton set up Dallas’ touchdown.
Pontotoc, however, would make the game’s biggest penalty with just more than five minutes to play in the contest. The Warriors were called for a personal foul penalty when they punted the ball to Itawamba, and the Indians would start their game-winning drive at midfield because of it.
“A personal foul, 15 yards, that hurt us bad,” Dampeer said.
It did because McGaughy, who fumbled twice in the third quarter, soon went from goat to gloating. The senior running back ran four times for 34 yards to help set up the game-winning score.
“Deshawn was bad for three-and-a-half quarters tonight, but I will take him the last five minutes,” Mitchell said. “He made some big plays for us.”
Trae Bobo added 14 yards rushing on that drive to set up Miller’s winning TD, which atoned for a fourth-quarter interception of his by Pontotoc defensive lineman Kelsey Traylor.
Mitchell said Bobo only had about three carries all season.
“We found a way late in the fourth quarter to put a drive together and make some plays,” Mitchell said.
John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal