It didn’t take long for the Parkway Panthers to gain a measure of redemption.
A week after being routed by Evangel Christian Academy, the Panthers stepped up and defeated the previously undefeated and fifth-ranked Byrd Yellow Jackets 20-6 in a District 1-5A game before a large crowd at Preston Crownover Stadium.
Parkway improved to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in 1-5A. Byrd dropped to 4-1 and 1-1.
“There’s no explanation for it except our kids really like playing in front of this student body at home,” Parkway coach David Feaster said of the way his players rebounded from last week’s loss. “They love playing on this field. They love playing in front of this crowd. Obviously it was a completely different team tonight.
“I can’t really explain it. If Evangel would’ve been here tonight would it have been different? I don’t know. Right now we’ve forgotten about last week and this kind of wipes it all out.”
The Panthers defense, which gave up a 407 yards to Evangel, allowed just 215 against Byrd. The Jackets’ powerful option attack had just 167 yards rushing.
“I’ve never seen Byrd shut out before and tonight our defense actually pitched a shutout,” Feaster said. “After we watched them on film against Longview and we watched them on film against Calvary and watched them on film against Captain Shreve, to see our defense, the way we played. Holy cow.”
Byrd came into the game averaging 41.5 points per game.
Parkway’s Keondre Wudtee, playing through an ankle injury, completed 14 of 27 pass for 279 yards and three touchdowns — all in the first half — to Elijah Rivers, Terrace Marshall and CJ Morgan.
The margin could’ve been higher. Parkway had drives stall at the Byrd 27, 17, 30 and 19. The latter two came in the second half when the Panthers were trying to put the game away.
As much as the Panthers dominated, the game was in doubt until late in the fourth quarter.
Byrd drove a first down at the Parkway 4. But quarterback Deuce Caston was injured on first down and the Panthers stuffed two rushing plays. On fourth-and-goal from the sixth, Ryan Black broke up a pass and the celebration was on.
While the Jackets made it into Parkway territory a few times, the late drive was their only serious scoring threat. Byrd’s only touchdowncame on an 77-yard fumble return that cut Parkway’s lead to 13-6 in the second quarter.
The defense set up Parkway’s second touchdown by stopping Byrd for no gain on a fourth-and-1 at the Jackets 40. Semaj Tarver and Colten Nicholas led the charge.
After Byrd’s scoop and score, the Jackets recovered an onsides kick and seemed to have all the momentum. But the defense came through again, forcing a punt.
Lloyd Cole and Ryan Black led the outstanding defensive effort. Cole was in on 19 tackles Black 13. Nicholas was in on 11 and Tarver 10. Malcolm Banks was in on eight, Greg Jones six and Nick So’oto five.
Byrd played without standout wingback Tysen Hardman. His replacement, Jalin Thomas, suffered a knee injury early in the game. Parkway lost linebacker Antoine Beckwith to an injury in the first half. Stoney Butler replaced him and was in on six tackles.
Morgan, a Mississippi State commit, had another big game. He rushed 11 times for 70 yards and caught three passes for 89 yards. He had a 37-yard catch and run on the first touchdown drive.
His touchdown catch on a perfect pass from Wudtee covered 39 yards came with with 55 seconds left in the first half. Morgan caught the ball over his shoulder at the 9.
“CJ lived up to his billing,” Feaster said. “Tonight I noticed the first time we handed off the ball to him he was really going hard even when we didn’t have holes. He was huge tonight.”
Marshall caught six passes for 108 yards, including the 42-yard TD catch. Rivers made a nice, leaping 20-yard catch in the front corner of the end zone for Parkway’s first TD.
Parkway resumes district play Thursday at home against Captain Shreve. The Gators dropped to 1-4 and 0-2 with a 56-21 loss to Airline on Friday.
— Russell Hedges, email@example.com