The Panthers lost a hard-fought game against Jackson-Atlanta Friday night at Atlanta's Grady Stadium. Jackson's tough run defense made it hard for Chapel Hill workhorse running back Tre Mitchell to get going, though he did eventually break the 100-yard mark with more than 30 carries on the night.
On defense, the Panthers (6-4, 5-2 region) struggled with Jackson's Shadricus Ferguson, a player that touched the ball on nearly every offensive snap, scoring two rushing touchdowns, rushing for nearly 150 yards and adding a few more through the air, though he did have one late interception.
"They give him the ball and run a lot," Chapel Hill head coach Geoff Pastrick said before the game. "He can throw as well and his receivers know how to get open."
Each team got off to a slow start on offense, as only six points separated the two teams, a six-yard run by Jackson's Stan Brown. Jackson never tried an extra point in the game and failed on its first two-point conversion.
Several of Mitchell's early runs for Chapel Hill went for losses. The team's best drive stalled when time ran out on the half.
Pastrick looked to spark his team coming out of the locker room in the second half by trying an onside kick. It backfired when Jackson not only recovered the kick but returned it all the way to the 12 yard line. Ferguson scored on the next play and threw for a two-point conversion to put his team up 14-0 just 15 seconds into the half.
Not going down without a fight, the Panther offense answered with an 11-play, 51-yard drive that ended with quarterback Brett Roberts hitting Tre Owens for a 27-yard score. Unfortunately, Ferguson single-handedly killed Chapel Hill's momentum on the next play from scrimmage, a 61-yard run and another two-point conversion to put Jackson up 22-7.
Chapel Hill added one more touchdown in the fourth quarter when Mitchell broke three tackles on a 15-yard run to put his team within eight at 22-14, but that was as close as it got. Struggling on the run, Roberts was forced to throw frequently, and too many passes fell incomplete.
Pastrick's team tried another unsuccessful onside kick and had two turnovers on downs as the team tried to make something happen down the stretch.
The matchup of region 4-AAA teams had no impact on the playoff picture. Chapel Hill had already locked up second place in the region and a home game next week. Jackson-Atlanta (6-4, 4-3) will miss the playoffs after finishing fifth in the region, one spot out of the state tournament.
With the loss, the Panthers snapped a four-game winning streak, all against region opponents, that Chapel Hill had used to build momentum toward the playoffs.
But none of that matters next week, as the Panthers will put this game behind them and make a return to the playoffs with a home game against either Tattnall or Johnson-Savannah (results were not available by deadline). The atmosphere at Panthers Stadium should be full of excitement as Chapel Hill rolls in to the second season and looks to make a run toward a state title.