After sleepwalking to start the game with an interception and a missed field, No. 3 seed Kell’s alarm clock rang loudly in the second half to wake the sleeping giant.
The potent Longhorns (9-2, 7-1 Region 7-5A) offense posted 21 points in the third quarter to secure a 31-22 win over No. 2 seed Southwest DeKalb in first-round action of the Class 5A playoffs at Godfrey Stadium. As a result of the victory, Kell plays at No. 1 seed Starr’s Mill in the second round.
Kell, which averages 31 points a game, was a shell of itself in the first half. The passing routes and running lanes that garnished so much success during the regular season were clogged by Southwest DeKalb defenders lined up in perfect position to make a play.
During the intermission, the Longhorns’ coaching staff made some tweaks to their playbook which reversed their fortune and extended the season to the second round of the playoffs.
“They were in a different defense than we’ve seen. We were having trouble blocking. They were in tighter coverage than they’ve played all year, which took away some of our passes. They put an extra guy in the box, and that made it difficult to run the ball under those circumstances,” said Kell head coach Derek Cook.
“At halftime, we made the decision to put some different formations out there. We made some throws on catches that were available for us. We just have to get better. Am I pleased with the win? Yes. Am I please with how we got there? Not entirely.”
Kell’s first dent on the scoreboard came courtesy of running back Josiah Futral. The speedster opened the second half with a 56-yard touchdown dash to put the Longhorns up, 7-3. Futral’s score ignited the emotions of his team and catapulted their offensive surge throughout the remainder of the contest.
“We were messing around early, but we came out ready in the second half. I told the guys to keep it up, keep it going and let’s go again,” said Futral. “This is big for our team, and we know our goal.”
Midway through the third quarter, Kell went ahead 14-3 when quarterback John Lampley connected on a sharp pass to DJ Owens for a 71-yard touchdown pass.
With the game slipping away, the Panthers regained some momentum when wide receiver Michael Pace caught a 5-yard touchdown, cutting the deficit to 14-10.
On the ensuing possession, the Longhorns went on top 21-10 when Lampley tossed his second touchdown of the evening on a pitch-and-catch with Matt Luckie.
As the third quarter was coming to a close, Southwest DeKalb looked to make it a one-score game. Javeon Cody hauled in a pass from Justin Tomlin and sprinted by the defense for an 80-yard touchdown. However, the score was waived off on a penalty.
Early in the fourth quarter, Futral recorded another touchdown when he sliced through the opposition for a 44-yard run to put his team up, 28-10.
Southwest DeKalb added two late scores, but it wasn’t enough to rally for a win and extend the season.
The 2016 season was an emotional roller coaster for the Panthers. On Aug. 4, head coach and Southwest DeKalb alum Michael Tanks died after suffering a stroke on July 25. The Panthers dedicated the season to his memory with a quest for postseason aspirations. They completed the year going 6-6 with a third-place finish in Region 5-5A at 4-2 and a berth in the playoffs. However, the dream for the coveted state crown ended in the first round in their backyard.
“We lost containment when he [Futral’s] broke around the end. That was the turning point of the ballgame,” said Southwest DeKalb head coach Fletcher Salter. “It was a great season for us. Everything happens for a reason. Coach Tanks’ passing was for a reason. It brought us together as a team and coaching staff.”