Lions battle Panthers to the end

Fans who came out to The Jungle to see a highly competitive football game Friday night were not disappointed. The Louisa Lions squared off against probably one of the toughest teams on their schedule, the Massaponax Panthers, battling the Class 6 powerhouse to a 28-27 victory.

It all came down to one key play.

With 10 seconds left in the game, the Panthers, having been kept out of the end zone by Louisa’s defense, lined up on fourth down to attempt a field goal. Had it been successful, Massaponax would have retaken the lead and won the game.

“We just had to finish,” Louisa senior Alex Washington said. “We knew what it was coming down to – they were going to score or we were going to stop them. We had to stop them.”

And stop them the Lions did. Washington powered through the defense and blocked the kick, and sophomore Jordan Smith dove on the loose ball to keep the Lions’ undefeated record alive.

“I knew we could block it, we saw it on film where we could attack,” Louisa head coach Will Patrick said. “I was more worried about us getting on the ball because I didn’t want them to pick it up and run it in.”

The Panthers made a strong case on their opening possession, with quarterback Luke Morley scoring a touchdown on a 9-yard run. An attempted 2-point conversion failed, leaving the score at 6-0 with just over eight minutes left in the first quarter. 

The Lions’ defense stalled the Panthers’ next drive on the 17-yard line, and the offense got things going after that. Junior Kalup Shelton broke loose on the first play of the drive for an 80-yard scamper down the field, getting tackled just outside of the end zone. Senior Jarett Hunter ran for the 1-yard score a few plays later, and sophomore Miguel Castells kicked the extra point to give Louisa a 7-6 lead with 2:17 left in the quarter.

The Panthers mirrored the drive on their next possession. Javaney Bruno skirted the Lions’ defense for a 65-yard run down to Louisa’s 3-yard line, then Morley finished off the drive with a 1-yard run. Stephen Hudson put the extra point away to put Massaponax back on top 13-7 at the end of the first quarter.

The Lions put up 13 unanswered points in the second quarter to take their lead back. Junior Robert Morgan IV scored the first touchdown on a 2-yard run, capping a 61-yard drive. Senior Saun Williamson kicked the extra point, making the score 14-13 with eight minutes left in the half.

After Louisa’s defense forced a turnover on downs deep in the Lions’ territory, the offense took over with 2:29 left on the clock. After a series of runs got the ball past midfield, freshman quarterback Landon Wilson fired off a pass to Hunter, who sprinted 47 yards to the end zone for the score. Williamson’s kick failed, leaving the score at 20-13 going into the halftime break.

The score remained unchanged until late in the third quarter. The Panthers took over on downs at Louisa’s 23-yard line, and quickly covered the distance. Elijah Christopher finished things off with a 9-yard run, and Carson Pugh put the extra point away to tie the game 20-20 with 3:44 left in the third.

The Panthers’ next score also came after a failed fourth-down conversion from the Lions, this one in Massaponax territory. They marched back down the field and Morley came up with the score on a 2-yard carry. Hudson kicked the extra point to give the Panthers a 27-20 lead with just over nine minutes left in the game.

“I don’t go for fourth downs not to get them,” Patrick said. “I want to get those fourth down [conversions]. I took a couple of chances there, riverboat gambling, whatever you want to call it, but I knew our defense was doing well, and at the end of the day, you gotta let the kids play.”

The offense didn’t waste any time in putting together a response. Starting on their own 35-yard line, Hunter and Shelton combined for 22 yards to get the ball to the Panthers’ 43-yard line. Morgan took things from there, covering the distance in a single burst for the touchdown with 7:56 left in the game.

Wanting to take the lead back, the Lions lined up for a 2-point conversion. Hunter drove up the middle for the points, putting Louisa back on top 28-27.

“Originally the call was a gut call, which is a play to the left,” Hunter said. “But when we got into the huddle, we decided we wanted to do it and go straight power, man on man, so coach said, ‘Y’all call the play,’ and the two-point conversion worked.”

Both teams made efforts to add to their score in the remaining time, but didn’t come close until the final minute of the game when Massaponax attempted their go-ahead field goal.

“The boys came out tonight and fought to the last second,” Patrick said. “It took the whole game, but we never get our heads down and never quit. As long as they give me their best, that’s all I ask for, win or lose.”

The Lions are off this week, and will begin Jefferson District play on Sept. 27 with a road game against the Charlottesville Black Knights. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.