Last season, I stood on the sideline and watched probably the toughest playoff loss I have witnessed when Amory got beat by Independence at the very last second. This year, the karma turned things the Panthers’ way as they were the ones on Friday who pulled off the thrilling comeback.
Standing on the sideline with just seconds left in the game watching Amory pull off the comeback, my mind flashed back to last season, and when I talked to coach Allen Glenn after the game, he said his did too. What was the difference this year?
“It’s a different team,” he said. “This is the 2020 Amory Panthers.”
And it was one of those wins where if you try to point to an impact player, you could almost name every single person who stepped out on the field.
Perhaps the big MVP of the night is the Amory defense, which has been stellar all year. They came together as a unit for stop after stop, and you couldn’t name one single star there. John Isaac Wallace seemed to be all over the place making plays. James Conner had at least three sacks. You had the pass tipped by Walker Maranto into the hands of Jakobey Cope for a touchdown.
Like the defense as a whole, running back Charleston French and the offensive line don’t have their names in the box score, but French had the best game of his young career so far and continued to help the offense march up and down the field all night. It’s a testament to both the hard-nosed way he continues to run and a much, much improved from Game 1 offensive line.
Then, of course, you have the three senior playmakers in Hunter Jones, Braxton Griffin and Jay Hampton.
The fact that in the end, the game came down to being in their hands is only fitting. I saw all three of their faces before the final drive, and you never saw a bit of doubt there. Playmakers come through when it counts, and those were the three who got it done.
You can also throw sophomore Corbin Gillentine in there, whose catch tied the game and who continues to capably fill a key hole that was left when James Spratt was lost to injury early in the year.
Winning a game like that on Friday is a testament to not just guts like Glenn said but heart, drive and determination.
In a year like no other that continues to throw twists, turns and obstacles in our way, it’s easy to see where that motivation comes from. Nine different teams saw their seasons end this past week, not on the football field and completely out of their control, and the fact that our two teams were able to play on Friday is a blessing that no one can take for granted.
Kids have discovered that the saying, play each game like your last can ring true at any time, and you saw a team on Friday night that was motivated to play in that manner and do what they could to try to make sure it wasn’t the final time.
There are many people who can’t understand why high school sports are so important or why so many of us feel grateful that they are still being played.
To those who can’t relate, I wish they could experience the thrill of a sideline like we saw on Friday night. It’s not only an experience that these kids, who have worked for months on end and even before that, will hopefully talk about for the rest of their lives. It’s one that brought happiness to a community and a bright spot to a year that those silver linings are sometimes hard to come by.