BELMONT – The Belmont Cardinals gave the Amory Panthers a test Friday night, but after a close first half, they passed it. A strong second half led the Panthers to a 56-35 win to secure second place in Division 1-3A and a home playoff game this Friday. Amory will host Independence in the first round.

“It was a bit of a crazy night for us. There were a bunch of highs and a bunch of lows, but we were able to come out with a win,” Amory coach Allen Glenn said. “We had to get through those first half jitters, but we did and had a really, really good second half.”

The Cardinals got the ball to start the game and used the run game to slash the Panther defense. Easton Higginbotham and Sam Smaglick got a stop on third down, but the Cardinals converted on fourth down. The defense rallied and forced a field goal was good for the early 3-0 lead.

The Amory offense hit right back. After a short gain by Titus Irons, quarterback Hunter Jones called his own number and scored a 67-yard touchdown. Bryn Camp’s extra point was good to give the Panthers a 7-3 advantage.

The kickoff sailed out of bounds and gave the Cardinals the ball at their own 35-yard line, but the defense got the stop and forced a punt.

A short run by Charleston French was called back due to a personal foul penalty, which forced the Panthers deep in their own territory. Jones’ pass went incomplete, and the Cardinal defense flushed him out of the end zone for a safety that cut the lead to 7-5.

Walker Maranto and Higginbotham got a big first-down stop, and a holding penalty and an incompletion sent the punt team out for the Cardinals.

James Spratt fielded the punt and ran it all the way back for the touchdown, and Camp’s kick gave the Panthers a 14-5 lead.

The Cardinals got the ball back and marched the ball from their own 30 down to the Panther 21, where Spratt came up big again, making an interception to give the offense the ball back. The good fortune was short lived though as Belmont got the ball back on an interception of their own.

Even with good plays on defense by John Isaac Wallace, TJ Huppert and a tackle for loss by Jermaine McIntosh, the Cardinals got the ball to the Panther 2-yard line. Houston French and Drew Lockhart managed to keep the runner out of the end zone, but the home team broke through for the touchdown on the next play and a two-point conversion to make it a 14-13 contest.

Amory’s defense held the Cardinals to a field goal attempt that was no good on their next possession and carried the one-point lead into the half.

The opening kickoff of the second half was taken by Spratt, who stopped near midfield. On fourth and 1, Jones kept it himself and ran for the 48-yard touchdown to put the Panthers up 21-13.

“We struggled on offense on the first half, and our defense played their butts off. We went into the locker room and made some adjustments,” Jones said. “Coach Glenn got on us a little bit because we needed it. We came out in the third quarter, went back to our original plan and put up four scores in the second half.”

The momentum shifted again, and the Cardinal run game slashed the defense and tied the game at 21 after a successful two-point conversion.

On the ensuing possession, Titus Irons kept the ball on the ground, moving the ball to the Belmont 31-yard line. Jones’ pass on fourth down found Jay Hampton, who took it in for the score. The extra point by Camp was good for the 28-21 lead.

French and Huppert made a stop on first down and forced the Cardinals to use the pass. The next two plays resulted in incompletions, and a declined chop block call forced the punt.

Spratt brought the return to the Belmont 25-yard line, and Jones found Hampton again for the touchdown to stretch the lead to 35-21.

Chris Satterwhite’s tackle on third down forced a three and out on the next possession and a Jones handoff to French ended the third quarter. A Jones keeper got the ball to the 17-yard line, and a touchdown pass to Spratt was called back.

The Panthers found the end zone on the next play, however, on an 11-yard run from French to go up 42-21. The Cardinals cut into the Panther lead with a touchdown to make it a 42-28 contest.

The short kickoff gave the Amory offense the ball at its own 37. Jones threw a bomb downfield to Spratt at the 15-yard line, and two plays later, French took it home for the touchdown to make it 49-28. Belmont answered again to cut it to 49-35, but after a flag against the Cardinals on the kickoff put the ball on their 10-yard line, French ran it in for his third score of the game to go up 56-35 and ice the win.

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