By Zach Adams/The Itawamba County Times
MANTACHIE – It’s been five years since Mantachie football fans have watched their team play for something more than pride.
After a winless division record a year ago in 2-3A, the Mustangs needed a victory over South Pontotoc on Friday night to clinch their first playoff berth since 2007.
Led by a dynamic effort by junior quarterback Dustin Carrell, as well as a ball-hawking defense that forced five turnovers, the Mustangs (5-4, 2-1)outpaced the Cougars early and raced their way into the postseason with a 28-7 win.
“I had some really good receivers make key plays down the field that really helped me out,” said Carrell, who completed 17 of 23 passes for 283 yards and four touchdowns. “Going to the playoff means a ton, not just to me, but for these 12 seniors who haven’t been in their careers.”
Quarterback Alex Pannell provided an early spark with his feet for South Pontotoc (1-8, 0-3), but was injured early in the second on a play that saw his team turn the ball over when Hunter Mears recovered a fumble for Mantachie.
Carrell made the most of the turnover when he hit Nick Burns seven plays later for a 41-yard TD. He hooked up with Burns again for a 5-yard score with 14 seconds left in the half.
Mantachie stayed in control with three fourth-quarter interceptions.
Trailing 21-0 late in the third, the Cougars made their push when Josh Estes jump-started the running game with a 32-yard TD that breathed new life into South Pontotoc.
The quickly shifting momentum was killed by three fourth quarter Mantachie interceptions, including one by Burns in the red zone, that led to the final score of the game when Carrell hit Hunter Holland from 18 yards out with 3:10 remaining.
“When the playoffs start, everybody is 0-0,” said Mantachie coach Lynn Moore. “Anything can happen, but we have got to get better at the technique part of what we are doing. If we do that, we will be all right.”