The Saint Jo Panthers proved skeptics wrong on Friday, beating the previously undefeated and state ranked Avalon Eagles at Aledo in the regional round of the playoffs.
The Panthers dominated after a tight first quarter, eventually winning by comfortable margin 52-22.
The Eagles came into the game with no losses and ranked as high as inside the top 10 in Dave Campbell’s Texas Football state rankings.
Saint Jo received the opening kickoff and marched down the field with its power running game. Hunter Garrett finished the drive with a short touchdown run to give the Panthers an early 8-0 lead.
Avalon showed why they it was so well regarded on its first possession. Featuring a spread attack that was engineered by the shifty Miguel Padron, the Eagles drive down field easily with runs through all of the open space. Padron then completed a short pass for a touchdown and tied the game with the kick to make it 8-8.
Looking like it might be an offensive back and forth affair all night, Saint Jo answered by driving down the field again, mostly with tough running from Logan Brawner. The drive was finished when Eli Jones found Pepe Gam clear for a 10-yard touchdown pass. The kick was no good, but the Panthers still led 14-8.
After a big run from Padron, Saint Jo’s defense tightened things up near its goal line. On fourth down, the Panthers defense kept the Eagles out of the end zone after they had been moved back.
Saint Jo looked to capitalize on the first stop of the game from either side, but things swung the other way quickly. An errant snap was recovered by the Panthers in their own end zone for a safety.
Avalon cut the score to 14-10 and was getting the ball back with a chance to take the lead with a touchdown. Fortunately, Saint Jo caught a break.
The Panthers elected to kick it deep on the kickoff. The ball drifted towards the sideline and the Eagles struggled to recover the kick. Saint Jo was able to recover the ball and regain possession right before the first quarter ended.
The Panthers got 10-plus yard runs from Jones and Brawner to get inside Avalon’s 10-yard line to begin the second quarter. From there, Garrett scored his second touchdown on a seven-yard run up the middle to put Saint Jo up 22-10.
Down two scores, the Eagles needed to respond in their next drive if they wanted to stay in the game. Instead a holding penalty on first down made a first down even farther. The Panthers defense held four straight plays to force another turnover on downs, getting the ball near midfield.
Looking to score once more and push the lead higher, instead Saint Jo fumbled the ball away. After two holding penalties backed up Avalon, the Eagles gave the ball back fumbling the ball away.
With only 30 seconds left before halftime, the Panthers offense went to the air. Jones completed passes to Logan Morman and Chance Bennett to get the ball to the 20 yard line.
With time running out, Jones found Morman behind the defense for a touchdown with one second left in the half. The kick made the score 30-10 at halftime.
Avalon received the ball to start the third quarter. The Eagles were completing some small passes here and there to march down the field and inside the Panthers 10-yard line. It was there where Garrett forced and also recovered a fumble at Saint Jo’s five-yard line.
Featuring a lot of runs with Brawner, the Panthers moved the ball down the field. Jones completed another pass to Bennett and ran once to mix things up, but it was Brawner who finished off the drive with a five-yard run. The kick made the score 38-10.
Before the third quarter ended, Saint Jo’s defense forced another turnover as Morman intercepted a pass near midfield.
Brawner then ran for 37 of the team’s 43 yards in the next drive, finishing it with another short touchdown run. The kick made the score 46-10 with more than seven minutes left to play.
Avalon’s offense then got the ball into Saint Jo territory, thanks to a personal foul penalty. With another holding and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, it looked like the Eagles offense was going to get stopped again facing a fourth and goal from the 22-yard line.
Instead, Avalon completed a pass to one of their big targets who trudged his way into the end zone, the team’s first since its first possession. It cut the score to 46-16 with a little less than five minutes to go.
The Panthers did not let this lapse affect them. After recovering the onside kick, Saint Jo again turned to Brawner. It took him only two carries to gain the remaining 42 yards, the last a touchdown on a 19-yard run to make it 52-16.
The Eagles were playing for pride at this point and scored another touchdown passing the ball, cutting the lead to 52-22. Saint Jo received the ball and trying to rest some of its starters with the game in hand, turned the ball over on downs. There was no time to do much as time ran out to give the Panthers the win.
To read the full story, pick up a copy of the mid-week edition of the Bowie News.