September 12, 2009 11:48:00 PM
AMORY -- There''s nothing like a blowout against a traditional county rival to silence the boo birds.
That was the case here Friday as the Class 3A Aberdeen Bulldogs rolled to an impressive 36-3 victory against the Class 4A Amory Panthers.
Coming off a 10-3 finish a year ago and ranked No. 3 in The Clarion-Ledger Class 3A preseason poll, Bulldog fans had visions of an unbeaten season and the school''s first state championship.
But a 1-2 start to the season prompted a small, but vocal, group of so-called "fans" to voice their displeasure at not only the coaches, but at the players last week in a 24-14 loss to Class 4A Pontotoc.
Undaunted by their fair-weather fans'' boorish behavior and determined to make up for last year''s 22-21 loss to the Panthers (0-4) in the annual battle for the A-Team trophy, the Bulldogs (2-2) built a 22-0 halftime lead en route to their second win against Amory in the past three years.
The one-two punch of quarterback Aaron Andrews and running back Jamerson Love led the Bulldogs.
Andrews, a target of recent criticism who was back at full strength after nursing an ankle sprain the past two weeks, was 6-for-10 for 208 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a pair of two-point conversion passes.
Love rushed for 118 yards on 13 carries and scored two touchdowns.
"We''ve got our starting quarterback back and, hopefully, he''ll stay healthy," Aberdeen coach Chris Duncan said. "We gave him some time to throw tonight, and I think everyone can see what he''s capable of when he''s healthy.
"As for Love, it was a typical performance for him. He has great vision and runs the ball hard every time out."
The Bulldogs'' defense set the tone, limiting the Panthers to 81 total yards (59 yards rushing, 22 passing). The Panthers ran 39 plays, 15 of which were stopped behind the line of scrimmage or for no gain. Only four Panther offensive plays covered 9 yards or more.
More impressively, Amory was held to six first downs, three of which were the result of penalties.
"It was a complete defensive shutdown," Aberdeen defensive coordinator Patrick Schoolar said. "Other than three or four plays, our defense completely dominated. Everybody was counting us out, but we were ready tonight."
It didn''t take Aberdeen''s defense long to make its presence known. Channing Ward forced a Chase Chambers'' fumble on Amory''s second play from scrimmage. Eric Mitchell recovered to set the Bulldogs up at the Panthers'' 17.
Mario Lucas gave Aberdeen a quick 6-0 lead when he sprinted 17 yards for a touchdown on a play in which he ran through a pair of tacklers.
"It was a speed sweep, which we had already stopped twice on their first series," Amory head coach Pat Byrd said. "We missed two tackles, and you can''t have that against folks who can run the football."
After two three-and-out offensive efforts, the Panthers posted their initial first down with less than two minutes left in the first quarter, but the Bulldogs forced a punt by Jake Shelly, which rolled dead at the Aberdeen 26.
Once again, the Bulldogs'' quick-strike offense came through when Andrews hooked up with a wide open Rashad Pargo, who raced untouched into the end zone to complete the 74-yard pass-run play 25 seconds into the second quarter.
Andrews then hit Erik Buchanan for the two-point conversion and a 14-0 lead.
The Dogs increased their lead to 20-0 with 1:03 left in the second period when Love bulled his way into the end zone from 5 yards out to cap a seven-play, 65-yard march in which he carried six times for 41 yards.
Buchanan then latched on to his second two-point conversion catch to give Aberdeen a 22-0 halftime cushion.
Midway through the third quarter, Andrews again teamed up with Buchanan (who had a 17-yard touchdown catch nullified on a holding penalty in the second quarter), this time on a first-down scoring toss that covered 88 yards.
Pargo''s point after upped the count to 29-0 with 7:09 left in the third quarter.
"Our offense is starting to jell," Aberdeen offensive coordinator Kris Pickle said. "Our offensive line played well up front, and they gave our backs room to run and did a good job of pass protection so Aaron (Andrews) had time to throw.
"People tend to forget this is Aaron''s first year as a starter and only his second career start. He sprained his ankle against Columbus and he''s taken a lot of heat here lately, but he worked hard in practice this past week, and I think he gives us the best chance to win."
The Panthers only points came on a five-play march that resulted in a 32-yard field goal by Zack Khima with less than four minutes to go in the third quarter. A 27-yard pass completion from Forest Williams to Reggie Griffin set up Khima''s kick.
The Bulldogs posted their final touchdown with a little more than a minute left in the third quarter on a 44-yard run by Love. Pargo added the point after to account for the final margin.
Byrd said Aberdeen was by far the superior team and deserved to take the A-Team trophy back across the bridge.
"They (Aberdeen) earned it," Byrd said. "They were the better team tonight, but now it''s done and over. Our job now is to get our players to move on and focus on our next game against Shannon."
He also said it''s time to stop blaming inexperience for the team''s 0-4 record.
"We''ve played four football games, so the inexperience excuse doesn''t hold water anymore," Byrd said. "We worked on not giving up the big play all week and look what happened. Their first three touchdowns were gifts because we turned the ball over, we couldn''t make tackles, and we failed to put pressure on their quarterback. We''ve got to stop being our own worst enemy."
Two bright spots for the Panthers, according to Byrd, were the punting of Jake Shelly (seven punts for a 33.7 average with no returns) and the special teams play of Joreel Freeman (21.7 kickoff return average).