October 5, 2009 2:57:00 PM
HAMILTON -- The West Lowndes High School football team stopped a late surge by Hamilton Friday night en route to a 26-20 victory in its Class 2A, Region 2, District 4 opener.
The Panthers (5-1) also snapped the Lions'' three-game winning streak.
Running back Antonio Wilson was the player of the game based on his performance in the third quarter, when he picked up 119 of his game-high 171 yards.
Wilson also scored the Panthers'' first three touchdowns to open the second half.
"He is a good kid and loves to run the football," West Lowndes coach Bobby Berry said. "He never gave up tonight, and it helped us get the win."
After a scoreless first quarter, the Lions struck first when senior fullback Cole Gill scored on a 1-yard run to help give Hamilton a 7-0 lead. The burst capped an 18-play, 92-yard drive that lasted more than nine minutes.
One minute and 30 seconds later, following a Panthers'' turnover, West Lowndes retaliated with a 63-yard interception return for a touchdown by Gerald Sanders, who found the end zone behind the lead blocking of senior Brandon Hill.
Despite a late 44-yard drive by West Lowndes, Hamilton kept the Panthers out of the end zone and led 7-6 at halftime.
West Lowndes scored on its first three drives of the second half. On their opening drive, the Panthers went 72 yards in eight plays. Wilson scored on a sweep from 16 yards out to give the Panthers their first lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, West Lowndes recovered a fumble on Hamilton''s 34. Five plays later, Wilson avoided several would-be-tacklers and scampered 22 yards for a score.
For the second straight kickoff, the Panthers capitalized on a mistake by the Lions and recovered the football on the Hamilton 49. Facing fourth and inches, Wilson took a sweep 39 yards to give the Panthers a 26-7 lead going into the fourth quarter.
"We talked to them at halftime and I don''t know how effective it was, but the guys came out determined to score touchdowns in the second half," Berry said.
Opening the fourth quarter, Hamilton drove the ball 64 yards in eight plays and scored on a one-handed juggling catch by sophomore tight end Collin Sanders off a pass from sophomore quarterback Austin Welch.
On a faulty snap on a punt attempt, the Lions recovered the football on West Lowndes'' 20. On the next play senior tailback Latedrick Troupe made a cut outside on a routine run and burned the competition for a 20-yard score to bring Hamilton within a touchdown.
On a crucial third-and-5 play, Hamilton senior linemen Skyler Conwill and Tyler Craven sacked quarterback Courtney Lucious for a 5-yard loss. The Panthers opted to punt and senior Durrell Hendricks returned the kick for a 78-yard score, only to be called back by a Lions'' lock-in-the-back.
"Our kids got behind early and the third quarter hurt us," Hamilton coach Ray Weeks said. "We could have folded, but we didn''t and had several chances at the end to almost come out on top."
With 2 minutes, 6 seconds remaining the West Lowndes defense stood strong and forced Hamilton to turn the ball over on downs. It then ran out the clock for the victory.