By Ruthie Robison The Choctaw Plaindealer
By halftime, the French Camp Panthers had a feeling they were about to make school history.
To extend their season to the pinnacle of Mississippi high school football, all the Panthers had to do was hold on to the lead in the third round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 1A playoffs. And the determined French Camp squad delivered.
After a 28-8 defeat over the Shaw Hawks last Friday night at French Camp, the Panthers became the MHSAA Class 1A North Half champions.
This is the first time in school history French Camp has earned the North Half title, and the honor to travel to Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson to play for a State championship.
The Panthers took to their home field opposite of the Hawks for the second time this season. Earlier this season French Camp and Shaw met in a contest that determined the Region 2 champion. French Camp edged the Hawks in a 16-14 close decision.
The Panthers wanted a more decisive victory in this much-anticipated Friday night rematch. French Camp lit up the board in the first quarter with three touchdowns; two coming from the defensive side of the ball.
Junior Hagan Box started the scoring for the Panthers with a 90-yard pick-six. Junior kicker Sam Gould followed with the extra point.
On the Panthers’ next possession of the game, junior quarterback Jesse Hosket found Lavondre Carter with a 27-yard pass. Gould added the extra point giving the Panthers a 14-0 advantage.
But Carter wasn’t finished scoring. Carter entered the end zone again after picking off the Shaw quarterback in Hawk territory and dashing 23 yards.
After Gould spilt the uprights for the PAT, the Panthers had 21-0 first quarter lead. The second quarter remained scoreless for both teams as the Hawks fought unsuccessfully to rally.
When both teams headed to the locker rooms at halftime, the Panthers were beginning to realize they were two quarters away from a trip to Jackson.
The Hawk offense received a boost in the third quarter with a touchdown followed by the extra points. But as soon as Shaw scored, the French Camp defense tightened down and silenced the Hawk offense for the rest of the game.
Box capped the Panther win after finishing a successful drive down the field with a run from two yards out. Gould’s dependable leg provided the extra point.
On the offensive side of the ball, Jesse Hosket had 13 carries for 55yards. Jaylon Clemens had 14 carries for 52 yards while Hagan Box had five carries for eight yards. Ben Hosket had one carry for five yards.
Jesse Hosket was 5-14 through the air for 79 yards with one touchdown.
Carter had five receptions for 79 yards with one touchdown. On the defensive side of the ball, Ben Hosket led with nine stops and two interceptions.
Jesse Hosket followed with nine stops. Dylan Dickey had eight stops with two sacks for a loss of eight yards and two quarterback hurries while Clemons had seven stops with two interceptions. Cortez Johnson had six stops while Daniel Hughes had six stops with one quarterback hurry. Douglas Hughes had five stops with one sack for a loss of four yards and one quarterback hurry while Box had three stops and one interception returned for a touchdown. Andrew Stevens had three stops and two sacks for a loss of 17 yards.
Matthew Castle had two stops with one sack for a loss of four yards and two quarterback hurries while Carter had two stops with two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown.
This week the Panthers are looking to continue their historical season as they set their sights towards the golden football.
French Camp coaches, athletic director, Ben Hosket and Clemons attended the 2012 Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi Gridiron Classic news conference at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in Jackson on Monday, Nov. 26.
“We are excited to be here, and very humbled to be here,” said head coach Nathan Wright at the press conference. “At the beginning of the year when you pick who is going to be (in Jackson), French Camp was probably not one of those teams. We are very thankful, and we owe it all to our Lord.”
The Panthers will enter the State championship matchup with an 11-2 overall record, division championship title and the North Half championship title.
French Camp will face the Stringer Red Devils at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The South Half champion Red Devils hold a 12-2 overall record, and were the Region 4 No. 2 team. On their road to Jackson, Stringer defeated the 2011 Class 1A State champion Noxapater Tigers and the Region 4 champion Bogue Chitto Bobcats.
Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. this Friday.
Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium is located in Jackson across from UMC Medical Center. Tickets can be bought in advance for $12 from the FCA High School office or at the stadium for $13. There will also be live broadcast coverage on Mississippi Public Broadcasting channels, ESPN3.com and playonsports.com. On-demand streaming will be available on playonsports.com as well.
“This is our first state championship game,” said Wright. “We hope to honor those who have gone before.”