SHANNON – On a six-game losing streak and with their backs to the wall after an 0-2 start to Division 1-4A play, Amory needed a win to keep its playoff hopes alive.
The Panthers grabbed it on Friday with a defensive battle for a 7-3 win over Shannon to rejoin the fight for a playoff spot in 1-4A.
“This win means everything for our football program. It's the culmination of a lot of hard work,” Amory coach Ben Ashley said. “There were a lot of doubters I'm sure, but where there's never been doubt is in our locker room. I've never seen any of that. Our kids have worked their tails off, and it's very gratifying that these young men get the opportunity to learn that hard work does pay off. We've worked hard for six weeks, and the kids finally got their payoff.”
Sophomore T.J. Fields, who scored the lone touchdown of the game, credited a good week of practice with helping to get the win on Friday.
“Physically all this week in practice, we went hard and did what we had to do,” said Fields, who had 130 yards on 34 carries in addition to the touchdown. “The coaches let us know that this is what we needed for playoffs. We worked hard, busted our butts and it paid off tonight.”
After holding the Red Raiders on their first two possessions of the game, Amory (3-6, 1-2) took advantage of good field position to get on the board in its second drive, starting from the Red Raiders' 35.
After a 4-yard first-down run from Fred Garth on fourth-and-3, T.J. Fields found the end zone from 14 yards out, and the Panthers took a 7-0 lead after Caleb Shelly's point-after kick.
“T.J. Just keeps getting better every week. He just has a whole lot of ability and had a great night tonight,” Ashley said. “I'm proud of him because he ran the ball hard tonight for sure.”
Shannon answered on its final drive of the first half with a pair of Kendall Cox runs getting the Red Raiders to the red zone. The Panthers kept them out of the end zone, however, and Hunter Robbins hit a 29-yard field goal to cut the lead to 7-3 at the half.
After exchanging three-and-outs to open the third, Fields' fumble gave the Red Raiders the ball at midfield, but after a Tyshon Cooper 16-yard run for a first down, Amory's defense held and Cox's pass was incomplete on fourth-and-11. The Panthers got the ball back at their own 32 but Shannon answered with a hold of its own.
Shannon (3-5, 1-2) got the ball back with 1:50 to go to try for a game-winning drive, but the Panthers' defense stopped them in three-straight plays to secure the win.
Ashley complimented his defense for holding Shannon to 70 yards of offense in the second half and credited his offense's first-half performance in aiding the effort.
“Our defense answered the bell, that's for sure. What played into it though is that they were fresh at halftime, and they haven't had that happen too many times lately,” Ashley said. “In the first half, our offense really took it to them physically and knocked them off the ball. That allowed our defense to be fresh at the half, and that made all the difference.”
Ashley credited the win with also being a life lesson for his young team, which has been riddled with injuries throughout the season.
“You learn that sometimes things don't always go your way, and they really haven't went our way this year. But our kids have bought in to our plan this week,” Ashley said. “We had three rough, tough physical football practices, and it paid off tonight. I couldn't be more proud of our kids because they laid it on the line tonight and won a big game.”
With two games left, Amory still needs a win at home over Tishomingo County or on the road against Corinth to get a playoff spot.
Fields said the Panthers know their work isn't done yet.
“It feels great to snap the streak especially with a division game. But we know we need one more to go to playoffs,” he said.