The Fort Stockton High School Panthers got a monkey off their backs while also throwing a monkey-wrench into the District 1 4A-2 standings with Friday night’s 14-7 overtime win over Monahans in the Panthers’ homecoming game.
The win was the first over the Panthers’ green-clad rivals since 2007 – when the seniors on this year’s team were ages six to seven.
The Panthers now find themselves one of three teams with two district wins (joining Snyder and Monahans) and firmly in the playoff hunt as they ready themselves for next week’s road trip to district leader Greenwood (4-0, 6-2).
Thus, the Panthers have a few hours to bask in the milestone win before hitting the weight room Saturday morning to start preparing for next week.
For the team’s seniors, the win over Monahans helps soothes two lopsided losses to Monahans the previous two years.
“This game out of the whole season was the team that had the most impact on me,” said quarterback Nick Johnson. “Everybody compares Monahans to Fort Stockton and they’re the bully to us. It was time we stood our ground this time.”
Said fellow senior Cole Daggett: “Oh my gosh, it’s like a playoff atmosphere here.”
Monahans started the game like, well, Monahans by taking the ball and driving 65 yards in eight plays capped by Cason Roark’s 24-yard pass to Payton Adams.
From there, however, the game became a battle of field positions marked by sluggish offenses, punts and turnovers.
After the team each traded two punts, Fort Stockton seemed poised to score as a short punt and 23-yard run by Juan Salgado gave the Panthers’ a first-and-10 on the Loboes 16. But one play later, Johnson’s pass went off the hands of receiver Jayden Valdez and was intercepted by Oscar Vazquez.
Monahans couldn’t capitalize and punted, as did Fort Stockton four plays later.
The Loboes looked to be back on track as they moved from their own 12 to the Panthers’ 20. Facing a fourth-and-four, quarterback Brandon Vazquez took a direct snap from center and broke left with a seemingly clear path to the end zone. But, as he approached the goal line, he fumbled the ball. The Panthers recovered inside their own one-yard line.
The Panthers punted the ball and held the Loboes at check through the final two palys and 33 seconds of the half.
It was a miserable half offensively as the Panthers finished with just 42 total yards (33 rushing and eight passing).
The defense kept the Panthers in the game by holding Monahans to seven points, despite allowing 196 yards and two trips to the red zone in the half.
Daggett was pivotal not only is his defensive play, but in his punting. His punts and his teammates downfield coverage pinned the Loboes inside their 20 three times.
The Panthers looked like a different team in the second, taking the opening kickoff out to their 41 and swiftly covering 59 yards seven plays to tie the game on a three-yard run by Johnson.
Meanwhile, the defense continued to stymie the Monahans’ offense, holding them to three punts and an interception in the second half.
The Panthers couldn’t find the end zone again, either, seeing their next four drives end in punts. With time running out in regulation, the Panthers did chew nearly three minutes off the clock with a 29 before a holding penalty pushed them back. The drive was ended Johnson’s 28-yard fourth down pass into the end zone was intercepted with seven seconds left in the game.
Monahans’ tried a passing play in the final seconds, the pass fell incomplete, but bore fruit for the Panthers as Loboes receiver Bradden Kesey was was flagged and ejected from the game for intentional kicking Jayden Valdez as he laid on the ground at the end of the play.
The penalty was assessed in overtime, starting the Panthers’ on the 12 yard line instead of the 25.
Two plays in, Johnson scored from 10 yards out for the 14-7 lead.
Monahans’ hope of forcing a second overtime ended with Izaiah Lujan recovering a fumble to end the game.