Phil Campbell tops Tharptown

By Bart Moss

For the FCT

In a game full of playoff implications, both the Phil Campbell Bobcats and the Tharptown Wildcats gave it their all Friday night.

Tharptown jumped out to a 19-0 lead before Phil Campbell would respond with 23 unanswered points to take the region win and position themselves for their first playoff birth in nine years.

“I’m proud of the way we fought back,” Phil Campbell head coach Ryan Swinney said.

“I told them in the locker room at halftime when we were down two touchdowns that this wasn’t new to us. We experienced the same situation at Sumiton Christian earlier in the year. We came back and won that one. We didn’t quit. When you don’t quit, good things happen.”

Phil Campbell’s freshman quarterback, Peyton Thomas, had a stellar game for the Bobcats connecting on 10 of 18 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns and completing two two-point conversion attempts.

Tharptown scored their first of three touchdowns with 3:14 to go in the first quarter. A two-yard run by Mike Rice capped off a 13-play, 61-yard scoring drive. Shawn Hines added the point after attempt to give the Wildcats a 7-0 lead.

A short Phil Campbell punt from the back of their own endzone gave Tharptown excellent field position to start their next drive.

Two big runs by Rice, including a 15-yard touchdown run, gave the Wildcats a 13-0 lead with 10:55 to go in the first half.

Rice scored his third touchdown of the night with 7:16 to go in the first half on a 13-yard run to increase the Wildcats lead to 19-0.

A short punt by Tharptown set Phil Campbell up with good field position late in the first half. Phil Campbell’s freshman connection of quarterback Peyton Thomas and wide receiver Joe Hardy hooked up for a 25-yard touchdown pass in the back of the endzone to give the Bobcats their first score of the night. The two-point conversion pass from Thomas to Tristan Godsey cut Tharptown’s lead to 19-8 just before the half.

“We got whipped up front in the first half,” Swinney said.

“We knew they were going to run on us and we couldn’t stop them for the most part. We missed too many passes and dropped too many balls.”

Neither team scored in the third quarter but a Tharptown penalty turned the tide of the game late in the third quarter.

Tharptown quarterback Heath Hatton connected with wide receiver Allen Gaston in the corner of the endzone on a nice throw and catch. It was all for naught, however. The score was called back on a holding penalty. The Wildcats eventually turned the ball over on downs.

Phil Campbell took advantage of the opportunity, driving the ball 64 yards in 10 plays that ended with a three-yard touchdown run by Colton Baker on the first play of the fourth quarter. Thomas connected with Godsey again for a two-point conversion to make the score 19-16.

Following the Phil Campbell touchdown, Tharptown methodically drove the ball 69 yards downfield in 15 plays. The drive, however, stalled at the Bobcat 10 yard line.

Two plays later, Thomas launched a perfect pass about 40 yards downfield that hit Austin Riner in stride who made the catch and sprinted to the endzone for a 90-yard touchdown pass to give the Bobcats the lead. Hardy added the PAT to make the score 23-19 with 1:02 to go in the game.

An unsportsmanlike conduct call on Phil Campbell on the touchdown pass forced the Bobcats to kickoff 15 yards deeper than normal. Heath Hatton returned the kick to the Wildcat 46-yard line giving Tharptown great field position to mount one last scoring drive.

Hatton connected with Gaston over the middle for a 43-yard gain down to the two yard line with just over 30 seconds remaining in the game. Three straight low snaps never allowed the Wildcats to get a clean play off, and on the final snap the Wildcats fumbled the ball on the one yard giving the Bobcats the region win.

“In the second half we thought we could hurt them with some quick stuff and work the middle of the field,” Swinney said.

“The play before the 90-yard pass, we caught them biting on some hitch routes. We executed the play perfectly. Peyton made a perfect throw and Austin made a nice catch and run.”

Tharptown coach Bill Smith was obviously disappointed in the loss. His team dominated the game on the ground piling up 294 yards on 56 carries. Defensively, the Wildcats held Phil Campbell to minus six yards rushing. Some ill-timed penalties, turnovers and execution errors cost the Wildcats in critical spots.

“I thought we executed our game plan well tonight,” Smith said.

“We were able to run the football. There was no reason for us to lose that game. Penalties, turnovers, and bad snaps. We knocked them off the ball all night. We should have won.”

Mike Rice led the way for Tharptown with 162 yards on 26 carries. Heath Hatton had 90 yards on 20 carries.

Tharptown will travel to Mars Hill Friday night. A win would still give the Wildcats some slim hopes of a playoff spot but they would need help from other teams.

Phil Campbell will host Cherokee Friday night. Phil Campbell controls their own destiny. A win would propel the Bobcats into the playoffs for the first time since 2005.


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