Sterlington’s offensive line aced its first test.
With a rebuilt interior asserting itself early, the Panthers breezed to a 34-21 victory over Jena in the middle game of Thursday’s Bayou Jamb.
Receiving the opening kickoff, the Panthers got off to a fast start.
Hayes Crockett’s 13-yard pass to Ram Foster on second-and-eight was good for a first down at the minus-49.
Dallas Reagor then ripped off back-to-back runs of 30 and 14 yards to set up first-and-goal. Fullback Jordan Townsend covered the final seven yards on two carries, plowing into the end zone from two yards out. Jacob Green’s extra point made it 7-0 just 1:52 in.
For the Panthers’ unproven offensive line, the six-play, 66-yard drive was a sign of things to come.
Strong tackle Matthew Husser, strong guard Brock Risinger, center Cameron Rivera, quick guard Devan Henderson, quick tackle Joby Guthrie and tight ends Hixson Street and Zach Jones paved the way for the Panthers to pile up 304 yards (182 rushing 122 passing) in the 24-minute game.
“I thought the offense was crisp,” Sterlington coach Lee Doty said. “I was concerned about our offensive line because Jena’s big defensively, but they opened up some big holes for us.”
Jena countered with a 12-play, 65-yard drive.
With the Giants facing third-and-six from the 24, Jordan Jackson moved the chains with a seven-yard pass to Cameron Jackson.
Six plays later, Trelon Jones lunged across the goal line from a yard out, tying the game at 7-7 with 4:10 to go in the half.
“We are going to have to find some bigger kids to play defense. I don’t think we have them, but we have to find them,” Doty joked. “We have to learn to play with leverage inside. Jena can run the ball. We haven’t practiced against anybody that can run the ball like them.”
Sterlington scored 15 points during a span of 96 seconds to gain the upper hand by recess.
Dorian Eddins’ 25-yard kickoff return preceded a six-play, 65-yard drive on the Panthers’ second series.
Following up a 15-yard carry by Reagor on the opening play, Townsend picked up a block from Street on a 25-yard reception to give the Panthers another first down at the 25. Townsend punched it in from two yards away four plays later to put Sterlington up 13-7.
A muffed kickoff led to Jena starting its next drive from the minus-3.
On the very next snap, Parker Coley sacked quarterback Jordan Jackson in the end zone for a safety.
Up 15-7, the Panthers set up at their own 48 following the free kick.
Reagor’s 24-yard burst and 18-yard reception triggered the six-play, 52-yard drive. Ram Foster’s sprawling 10-yard grab set up a first-and-goal at the eight. From there, Crockett used Guthrie as a shield for the touchdown, extending the Panthers’ lead to 22-7 with 19 seconds on the clock.
Finishing out an action-packed half, Trelon Jones broke off runs of 15 and 26 yards before Cole Jones blocked Hunter Robertson’s 30-yard field goal attempt.
Defensive end Jordan Doaty stopped the first play of the second half in the backfield, leading to a three and out series by the Giants.
Henderson topped off the big night for the Panthers’ O-line on the ensuing series.
Layton Rainbolt’s 76-yard touchdown reception on Sterlington’s first snap of the half was negated due to an illegal block.
Moments later, Crockett’s pass deflected off of Foster and into the hands of Henderson (at least that was the ruling), who scurried 55 yards to paydirt.
Jena needed just two plays to answer as Trelon Jones streaked 74 yards to bring with the Giants within 28-13 midway through the second half.
Sterlington replied seven plays later on a four-yard TD burst by Townsend to make it 34-13 with 3:17 remaining.
Tobbie Johnson’s two-yard run wrapped up the scoring with six seconds on the clock.
“I know it’s just the Bayou Jamb, but for our seniors, it’s their last one,” Doty said. “I’m proud of our seniors.”
Notes: Reagor and Trelon Jones were named Players of the Game. Reagor rushed for 109 yards on just six carries to go with an 18-yard reception. Jones ran for 154 yards and two scores on 14 tries. … Sterlington opens the regular season with a Friday night road trip to Logansport.