Panthers beat Morrow to improve record to 4-3

Junior wide receiver Marcel Ray takes off after catching a pass from sophomore quarterback Stone Kasten for his first touchdown catch of the year. It gave the Panthers a 21-0 lead in the first quarter in the game against Morrow.

After starting out the year with two straight losses, the Panthers bounced back and to put themselves in the playoff hunt, winning four of their last five games, including a 42-7 win over rival McIntosh.

“We’ve got some things clicking now,” junior wide receiver Dion Munerlyn said. “Anything can happen at anytime, so we just need to stick together as a team and we’ll be good. We’ve forgotten about the first two games, we fixed our mistakes, and our team’s just getting better as we go.”

They proved that by beating Morrow, 55-8, on a rare Thursday night game on Oct. 16 in Panther Stadium. The Homecoming victory improved the Panthers’ record to 4-3, marking the first time this season that their record has been above .500.

“We are a lot better team at this point,” head coach Chad Phillips said. “There’s no question we would defeat Whitewater and Fayette if we played them again. Our sophomore quarterback is playing like a junior, and our freshmen are playing like sophomores.”

The Panthers’ offense started quickly, scoring just 1:26 into the game on the opening possession with an 18-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Stone Kasten to Munerlyn to give them a 7-0 lead.

After the Panther defense forced Morrow to punt, the offense scored again, this time on a 4-yard run by freshman running back Rico Frye, giving the Panthers a 14-0 lead.

The Morrow defense forced a Panther punt on the next drive, but on fourth down, the snap went over senior punter Mitch Pattison’s head to the Starr’s Mill 23-yard line. Pattison picked it up and punted it out of bounds to the Panther 36-yard line.

However, with 16 seconds left in the quarter, junior utility player Satchel Goodrich intercepted a poorly thrown pass from Morrow quarterback Larry Hodnett and returned it 35 yards to the Morrow 40.

Junior wide receiver Marcel Ray caught a pass from Kasten on the next play, which he took 40 yards for his first touchdown of the year, increasing the Panther lead to 21-0 to end the first quarter.

Morrow return man Josh Lowery took the kickoff 34 yards to the Morrow 35-yard line, and the offense moved the ball from there. Highlighted by a 23-yard run by Hodnett, Morrow was able to get to the Panther 24-yard line. They went for it on fourth-and-four but fell two yards short.

The Panther offense drove the ball 78 yards on 6 plays and scored on a 39-yard rush by Frye to give them a commanding 28-0 lead.

Two plays later, Morrow got on the board with an 85-yard pass from Hodnett to wide receiver George Carter to cut into the Panther lead. Hodnett ran the ball in on the two-point conversion attempt to make the score 28-8 with 5:53 left in the half.

Led by Kasten, the Panthers went on a 12-play, 60-yard drive, using 4:46 to score on a 6-yard touchdown run by Kasten to increase the lead to 35-8 going into the break.

After several punts from both teams to start the second half, Morrow back-up quarterback Josiah Dixon was intercepted by senior defensive back Luke Schoolcraft with 5:12 left in the third quarter and returned it 18 yards to the Morrow 30.

Three plays later, the Panthers were in the red zone on the 14-yard line, lined up in shotgun formation. Kasten fumbled the ball while attempting to hand it off to Frye, but Frye picked it up and ran to the outside where several defenders were waiting for him. Seeing nowhere to go, he tossed the ball back to Kasten, who immediately threw to a wide-open Munerlyn for a touchdown and a 41-8 lead after Morrow blocked the extra point with 3:41 left in the quarter.

“I fumbled the handoff and Rico picked it up, and as he was being tackled I said, ‘Hey Rico, give me the ball!’ He tossed it to me, I got it, saw Dion in the end zone and just threw it,” Kasten said.

Just over a minute later, Dixon tried to throw the ball deep across the right-middle of the field and freshman safety Cole Giley intercepted the pass. He got the one block he needed and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown, increasing the Panther lead to 48-8.

“I’ve got to give some credit to Melvin (Broomfield) because he gave me a good lead block and once he did, I had it all the way,” Giley said.

At this point, the coaches took out their starters and gave the back-ups and JV players some game experience in the fourth quarter. Sophomore JV quarterback Chase Sands led the team on one more long, 8-play, 80-yard touchdown drive capped off by an 11-yard run by senior running back Dre Davis, giving the Panthers a 55-8 win.

“They’re starting to play with some confidence and believing that they’re a pretty good team, which they are,” Phillips said. “We have guys making plays. Dion’s making plays, Stone’s throwing the ball really well. Rico is a special back, and Nic Brown is, too. You mix those guys in along with the other players and we have some weapons we haven’t had the last couple years.”

Munerlyn has been featured more in the offense the last two games, scoring five touchdowns, four receiving and one kick return.

“I just try to play to the best of my ability,” Munerlyn said. “My coaches tell me if you’re gonna do it, do it big. So every time I touch the ball, I want to score.”