By MICHAEL BURWELL
McCOMB — McComb’s football team experienced a roller coaster of emotions leading up to Friday’s showdown with Pandora-Gilboa.
But the Panthers kept one constant going: winning Blanchard Valley Conference titles.
McComb clinched a share of its third-straight BVC title, fourth in the last six years and 17th overall as it rolled past P-G 49-27 in a matchup of state-ranked Division VII teams.
“The seniors, they just came together. I know it’s been a rough 24 hours, but I’m so proud of this football team,” McComb coach Kris Alge said. “What they’ve done with all the guys we lost last year, they just fight week in and week out.
“We continue to get better and I’m just really proud of this team. This is a really good win for this football team.”
McComb improved to 8-1 overall and 7-0 in the BVC. The Panthers, ranked No. 10 in the latest Associated Press Division VII poll, can win the title outright with a win over Liberty-Benton on Friday.
The Eagles (No. 7 in Division VI poll) beat Hopewell-Loudon 58-21 on Friday to improve to 8-1 overall, 6-1 BVC. An L-B win over McComb would give the Eagles a share of their ninth BVC title.
The Panthers were playing without starting quarterback Cam Morris, who was arrested by the McComb Police Department on Thursday for trespassing in a habitation where a person is present or likely to be present, according to the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office website. Morris was released from the Hancock County jail Friday.
Alge declined to comment about Morris.
McComb’s running game, which helped the Panthers reach the Division VII state semifinals the last two seasons, was strong throughout the game. The Panthers racked up 308 rushing yards on 53 carries, and their defense held P-G (No. 9 in Division VII poll) to 94 rushing yards.
Overall, McComb had a 245-45 advantage in yards in the first half and a 366-177 advantage overall.
“Credit to them, they were more physical, they were tougher, they hit us. Whatever cliche you want to use, they just brought it tonight,” P-G coach Matt Hershey said after the Rockets dropped to 7-2 overall, 5-2 BVC. “Maybe we didn’t respect them enough going in, so credit to them again.”
“Their coaching staff did a great job, their players did great.”
Clay Santos, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior for McComb, rumbled for 165 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries. His 17-yard score up the middle gave the Panthers a 7-0 lead with 4:52 left in the first quarter.
He added touchdown runs of 4 and 10 in the second half.
Kheaghan Loe also had a strong game on the ground for the Panthers as he racked up 103 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. The 5-7, 175-pound junior scored on a 54-yard run after going up the middle and cutting right to extend McComb’s lead to 19-0 early in the second quarter.
“We worked on the bone the last two, three, four weeks and working some passing game out of it. But that was our goal going in, to try to run it down their throats,” Alge said. “Our line’s getting better, our running backs, we have three excellent running backs and then you add Tanner (Schroeder) in there, too, made some big plays running the ball.”
Schroeder, a 5-10, 170-pound junior who leads the Panthers in receiving, stepped in at quarterback. He threw just three passes, but his one completion was a big one as he found Robert O’Dell over the middle for a 58-yard touchdown late in the first quarter to give the Panthers a 13-0 lead after a missed extra point.
Schroeder also scored from a yard out with 47 seconds left in the second quarter as the Panthers took a 35-14 halftime lead.
P-G scored 14 unanswered points to pull within 19-14 late in the second quarter. Rockets’ quarterback Jared Breece found Riley Larcom for a 12-yard touchdown with 7:22 left to make the score 19-7.
The Rockets forced a three-and-out on McComb’s next possession, and P-G’s Ethan Steiner recovered a fumble on the McComb 1 on McComb’s punt attempt as the ball sailed over Schroeder’s head.
Breece punched it in three plays later to cut the deficit to five.
That was as close as the Rockets would get the rest of the game.
Graham LaRue returned the ensuing kickoff 63 yards for a touchdown after P-G tried a squib kick. Santos’ two-point conversion run gave McComb a 27-14 advantage with 3:50 left in the half.
“Graham LaRue, we put him in the game just right there and they kick it right to him and he runs it back. We just got kids that stepped up,” Alge said. “Graham played great on defense. These guys, I’m just proud of them. They work for us, they’re hard workers and they give it their all.”
Schroeder picked off Breece on the Rockets’ opening possession, and the Panthers forced three-and-outs on the next four P-G possessions.
Breece had three touchdown passes, including a 15-yard score to Carter Nofziger in the third quarter and a 13-yard strike to Josh Wauters in the fourth. But he completed just 8 of 25 passes for 83 yards.
Peyton Traxler led P-G with 57 yards on nine carries, including a 35-yard run in the fourth quarter. Nofziger, who picked off Schroeder in the third quarter, had four catches for 35 yards.
Alge credited his seniors for helping the Panthers clinch a BVC title share. The Panthers lost 16 seniors from last year’s team.
“The last two years, we’ve been so good (with) leadership with the seniors and those kids played in 28 games,” Alge said. “These seniors maybe didn’t get to play a lot as sophomores but they were still playing and winning and winning is contagious with the Panthers, and I always say ‘never count out the Panthers.'”
Pandora-Gilboa 0 14 6 7 — 27
McComb 13 22 7 7 — 49
McC — Santos 17 run (Schroeder kick)
McC — O’Dell 58 pass from Schroeder (kick failed)
McC — Loe 54 run (pass failed)
P-G — Larcom 12 pass from Breece (Hok kick)
McC — LaRue 63 kickoff return (Santos run)
P-G — Breece 1 run (Hok kick)
McC — Schroeder 1 run (Loe run)
P-G — Nofziger 15 pass from Breece (kick failed)
McC — Santos 4 run (Schroeder kick)
McC — Santos 10 run (Schroeder kick)
P-G — Wauters 13 pass from Breece (Hok kick)
First Downs 7 15
Rushes-yards 26-94 53-308
Passing Yards 83 58
Comp-Att-Int 8-25-1 1-3-1
Punts-Avg. 7-47.1 3-34
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 5-1
Penalties-Yards 3-33 6-65
rushing — Pandora-Gilboa, Traxler 9-57, Lee 4-20, Breece 12-15, Nofziger 1-2. McComb, Santos 23-165, Loe 12-103, Swisher 6-31, Schroeder 10-8, Dillon 1-2, Pierce 1-(-1).
passing — Pandora-Gilboa, Breece 8-25-1–83. McComb, Schroeder 1-3-1–58.
receiving — Pandora-Gilboa, Nofziger 4-35, Maag 1-18, Larcom 2-17, Wauters 1-13. McComb, O’Dell 1-58.
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