By ROB TUCKER
Special to the OBSERVER
PANAMA - A Panama Panthers' victory died by self-inflicted wounds on Saturday afternoon.
Photo by Rob Tucker
Sherman/Ripley quarterback Andrew Graham runs with the ball during his team’s Class DD?football game against Panama, on Saturday.
Exact time of death: Five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
After surrendering 18 points in the second quarter to go into the locker room at halftime trailing by 12, 18-6, only to come roaring back and regain the lead late in the fourth quarter, penalties, turnovers and mental errors spelled doom for hosts. They allowed arch-rival Sherman to score 14 unanswered points in the final 4 minutes of regulation on the way to suffering a 38-27 Class DD defeat.
Quarterback Andrew Graham led the way for the victors, completing 8 of 18 passes for 131 yards with three touchdowns while also running for one score.
Along with Graham, teammate Devin Moorhead gained 98 yards on 16 carries and found the endzone twice.
The victory improved Sherman's record to a perfect 4-0 while Panama fell to 2-2 overall and 2-1 in league.
Following a Panama fumble on an attempted double handoff, Sherman, trailing by three, 27-24, took control of the ball at itsown 30-yard line with a little more than four minutes remaining in the contest. Three runs and, most importantly, two personal fouls later - a late hit and an illegal hands-to-the-face - and Sherman, without much effort, was at the Panama 25-yard line. A 13-yard pass from Graham to receiver Jon Luden and then a 9-yard keeper by Graham across the goal line capped the game-winning, seven-play, 70-yard drive.
Another Panthers' mistake on the ensuing kickoff - Jacob Short, as the rain fell with increasing intensity, fumbled while returning a squib kick - gave Sherman possession at the Panthers' 41. Once again Panama was called for a pair of personal fouls (this time both were for unsportsmanlike conduct) and Sherman was moved down to its opponents' 8-yard line. From there, Moorhead found the right edge for another touchdown to reach the winning margin.
"The penalties killed us," Panama coach Chris Payne said. "We showed a lack of character. I'm with (Southwestern coach Jay) Sirianni on character. I'm a firm believer in that and having that in the program and that was just unacceptable. We can't give them 65 yards on penalties on the last two drives."
Sherman coach Bob Krenzer, for his part, was glad to have escaped the battle with a victory.
"We were just lucky," he said. "We got lucky today. But I was impressed with the fact that we didn't have any quit in us today."
Given the circumstances in the second half, it would have been easy for Krenzer's crew to do just that.
Held scoreless in the opening quarter, Sherman scored on all three of its second-quarter possessions. On the first, Moorhead's 33-yard punt return set up an 18-yard pass from Graham to Dylan Scouten. On the second, Moorhead's 51-yard burst and Graham's 33-yard strike to Moorhead a few plays later led to a touchdown run of five yards by Trevor Enterline. Finally, just before half, Graham put the finishing touch on a six-play, 65-yard drive when he hit Moorhead in the endzone from eight yards out.
But it was a different story in the third and for much of the fourth, as Krenzer and the Wildcats were seemingly powerless to stop the Panthers' rushing attack. Trailing 24-12 in the final period, Panama quarterback Bryce Payne found Alec Blose for a 13-yard score, and then on the ensuing Sherman possession Kelvin Eddy intercepted Graham, giving his squad the ball at their own 41. Two plays later, Stephen Enlow burst through the line for a 56-yard score to put Panama ahead for the first time since the opening quarter, 27-24.
"That showed a little bit of character," Payne said of the comeback. "We really faced adversity on the scoreboard, so hopefully we learn from this and maybe we'll see them again."
NOTES: Enlow finished with 86 yards on just seven carries while Eddy chipped in with 16 rushes for 77 yards and Robbie Benson 15 carries for 62 yards.