By Stan Beall
The Star Herald
Most would say that it’s just an honor to play in the state championship game, which is true, but that will not console French Camp head coach Nathan Wright on ‘what could have been’, after his Panthers lost to Stringer 20-17 in the game’s final two minutes at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson Friday.
The Panthers started the game on the defensive side of the ball and were able to force a Red Devil punt after stopping them short on third down.
Hagan Box was back deep for the Panthers to receive the punt, but a high kick coupled with a bright sun caused Box to mishandle the football.
The Red Devils recovered the muffed punt near the Panther 20-yard line.
The Panther defense stood strong once again and forced the Red Devils to kick a 25-yard field goal with a little over seven minutes remaining in the first quarter to take a 3-0 lead. The Panthers were able to take their first offensive possession right down the field with Jaylon Clemons scoring on a four-yard run, Sam Gould kick, to take a 7-3 lead with two minutes left to play in the first quarter.
The first quarter would end with the Panthers leading the Red Devils 7-3.
Stringer was able to put together a productive drive on their next possession, but the Panther defense stiffened once again, forcing the Red Devils to kick another field goal, this time from 30 yards.
With less than 11 minutes left in the half, French Camp still led 7-6. Both defenses would stiffen during the remaining minutes of the half, but French Camp was able to get on the board once again with a 35-yard field goal off the foot of Gould to take a 10-6 lead into the intermission.
Stringer would score first in the second half after quarterback Tevin Moore broke free for a 51-yard run, Cade Hinton kick, to take a 13-10 lead with five minutes remaining in the third.
The Red Devils would take a 13-10 lead into the games final quarter.
The Panthers appeared to be answering the Red Devil score with a productive offensive drive of their own, but quarterback Jesse Hosket was stripped of the football by Lorenzo Crosby near the Red Devil 25 yard line.
The Panthers would stand strong on the defensive side of the ball and were able to regain possession and with about seven minutes left in the contest.
The Panthers put together a strong drive aided by several huge runs from senior running back Jaylon Clemons setting up a five-yard quarterback sneak from Jesse Hosket.
The Panthers now led the Red Devils 17-13. After the Red Devils regained possession, the Panther defense could not stop them, and with about two minutes remaining in the contest, quarterback Tevin Moore rushed another one in from 19-yards out, Hinton kick, to take a 20-17 lead.
The Panthers regained possession and quickly moved the football deep into Red Devil territory, but it was to no avail.
With less than 30 seconds remaining in the contest Jesse Hosket’s pass that was intended for Lavondra Carter was intercepted near the eight-yard line ending the Panther threat and their Class 1A title hopes.
The Panthers would out gain the Red Devils in total offense 377 yards to 311 yards.
The Panthers would accumulate 19 first downs and maintain possession for 26:03 as compared to the Red Devils with 15 first downs and 21:57 of possession.
Jaylon Clemons rushed for 208 yards on 19 carries with one touchdown while quarterback Jesse Hosket rushed for 64 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown as well. Jesse Hosket also completed 8 of 16 passes for 85 yards and an interception.
Daniel Hughes had six carries for 17 yards and Hagan Box had four carries for six yards to round out the ground game.
Box was the leading receiver with two catches for 40 yards and Lavondra Carter had two receptions for 18 yards.
Ben Hosket would catch three balls for 17 yards and Dylan Dickey would have one catch for 10 yards to round out the Panther offense.
The ‘2012 Class 1A Defensive Player of the Year’ Ben Hosket led the Panthers defensively, with 16 tackles.
Jaylon Clemons, Andrew Stevens, Cortez Johnson and Douglas Hughes each had eight tackles while Dylan Dickey collected five tackles with a quarterback sack.
“We had a fantastic year, and we told these kids at the beginning that we just wanted them to play as hard as they could play,” said French Camp head coach Nathan Wright. “We understood that if we made mistakes that they were going to hurt us––we missed two field goals and dropped a couple of touchdown passes and they (Stringer) made us pay for it. We got the effort we needed from our kids, they all played with fantastic character and they played hard and never hung their heads, and we had a chance there at the end. As hard as it is to swallow and as much as we would have liked to have been State Champs, we know that even that defeat is going to work for us and not against us and we’re going to trust that the Lord is going to keep working on us everyday.”
The Panthers would finish the year as the Class 1A North State Champions with an 11-3 record.
Coach Wright, in conclusion, stated that, “We’re just thankful to the Lord for all of it, and we can’t wait to see what’s next.”