Sterlington vs Mangham

Sterlington coach Jason Thompson. 

Editor’s Note: As we wait for sports to resume locally, we’ll take a look back at the Top 10 high school football games since 2015.  Every week will feature a look back at the top games played amongst our parish teams.

No. 4: Sterlington vs. Many (2016)

The 2016 Sterlington football season is what storytellers dream of.

Before we even get into this semifinals classic, you have to remember this Panther team entered the postseason with two losses to earn a No. 4 seed. Those losses were suffered midseason in back-to-back weeks, by the way. Sterlington dealt with multiple injuries throughout the season, but something was clearly special about this team. And I’m not just talking about the national publicity it garnered after a horrific event that involved the death of Franklin Parish’s Tyrell Cameron.

Franklin Parish and Sterlington were linked after Cody Seward made the tackle that tragically ended Cameron’s life, and ESPN came knocking to do a national piece on Seward walking away from football. Thankfully, backed by the Franklin Parish community, Seward returned to the Panthers and honored Cameron by wearing No. 48 that season. He and the Panthers finished off the season in style...

That’s the backstory. Now for the action on the field.

So the story of 2016 goes like this. Sterlington started the season with some impressive victories before losing to Loyola College Prep and getting shutout by Ouachita Christian (35-0). Covering that OCS game, I was amazed at how that game got away from Sterlington. It was like the Panthers just completely unraveled, but in many ways, it was the best thing that happened to that team. It forced the team to look inward and allowed Thompson to challenge his entire football program to refocus and get better.

That’s exactly what happened. The Panthers ripped off four straight wins, including a 34-30 victory against a talented Ferriday squad, before pummeling Capitol, 59-28, in the first round of the Class 2A Playoffs.   

The Panthers then defeated Pickering, 48-20, before just barely edging Kinder in a back-and-forth shootout. To be honest with you, that game was so entertaining that I thought long and hard about making that part of this Top 10. The No. 4 Panthers survived a 49-42 offensive onslaught before making a trip to Many on Dec. 2 with an opportunity to play for a state championship on the line.

Somehow, after that shootout victory, the games just got better and more intense.

Before Landon Green nailed an 18-yard field goal to send Sterlington to its first state championship berth since 2003, the Panthers had to outlast Many in three overtimes. Like I said, this season was for the storybooks.

“I don’t know that there are words to describe what that felt like,” Sterlington head coach Jason Thompson said. “I don’t know if anybody expected us to win these last two weeks except maybe ourselves. I told these kids any times this year that it’s been one of the more enjoyable groups I’ve coached in some time.”

This game had just about everything, including motorcycles and fireworks for fanfare. Engaged in a 7-7 tie on the road, Thompson and his staff dug into his bag of tricks and pulled out a reverse pass that saw wide receiver Peyton Kempt connect with quarterback Carson Clowers to give Sterlington the lead on the road.

Talented Many running back A.J. Carter found the end zone on a 76-yard run to start the first quarter, but after that score, Sterlington had Many’s offense hemmed up for the most part.

Carter’s third touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter, followed by a successful two-point conversion, allowed Many to lead 29-21 with two minutes to play in the contest. With 1:20 remaining, Clowers found Austin Mears on a 52-yard score. A successful two-point try followed to tie the game and send it into overtime.

Both teams went scoreless in the first overtime, and the two squads traded scores in the second overtime. Sterlington back Tyler Muse scored for the Panthers on a short run in the second overtime before Green made the ultimate game-winner. 

Clowers finished the contest with 250 passing yards, 82 rushing yards and 82 receiving yards. Kempt had six receptions for 90 yards in the victory. Meanwhile, Carter had 210 rushing yards on 31 attempts for Many.

Next week's contest will feature another underdog story in an inspiring win for the ages. 

Award-winning sports writer for columns and features since joining the field in 2013. As the first-ever featured columnist of the month at Bleacher Report, Martin cut his teeth with online media before joining the newspaper business in 2014.

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