Triad’s Cameron Atchison (9) helps bring down Fairbanks’ Beau Sloan on this play Friday evening. The Panthers rolled to a 51-27 victory.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Tim Miller)
The Fairbanks Panthers did not let a couple of difficult possessions early in Friday night’s game against Triad dictate what was to follow.
The Panthers lost a fumble and were then forced to punt as a result of those possessions.
They actually trailed early in the game, 7-0, but roared back for an easy 51-27 victory during the Ohio Heritage Conference game.
“Triad showed us a different blitz, but the kids were able to pick up on it and got the job done after that,” said Panther coach Patrick Cotter.
Triad’s Isaiah Bruce recovered that Panther bobble, but the Cardinals later surrendered the ball on downs.
Fairbanks still couldn’t do much with the pigskin and returned possession to the Cardinals on a punt.
Triad needed only four plays to capitalize, as quarterback Jordan Simonelli found Bruce on a 45-yard touchdown pass.
Simonelli connected on the extra point, giving the Cardinals a 7-0 lead.
Those moments of hope, however, were fleeting for Triad (1-8) as the Panthers (5-4) wasted little time getting down to business.
Brian Higinbotham found a seam in the return lanes and took the ensuing kickoff all the way down to the Triad 28-yard-line.
Quarterback Jacob Nicol made quick work of things, as he flipped a scoring strike to Beau Sloan on the first snap from scrimmage.
Megan Olson’s PAT tied the game.
The Cardinals began the trek upfield on the kickoff, but put the ball on the ground.
FHS’ Austin Lester fell on the bouncing ball, giving the Panthers a very short field at the Cardinal 19.
Nicol once again wasted little time as he connected with Sloan on another one-play touchdown pass.
Olson booted the extra point for a 14-7 lead.
Fairbanks’ defense then harassed Simonelli and Company into a three-and-out.
Nicol made a big play as he ran the ball down to the Triad 30.
A pass to Braden Fairchild covered 10 yards. Another completion to Wyatt Damron, plus a Triad face mask infraction, had Fairbanks cooking at the Cardinal six-yard-line.
Two plays later, Nicol carried the ball into the end zone.
Olson was perfect on her third extra point as she helped send FHS into the second period with a 21-7 lead.
Things started to get ugly for the Cardinals early in the ensuing quarter when Higinbotham picked off Simonelli’s pass and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown.
Olson’s PAT pushed the Panthers out to a 28-7 margin.
To their credit, the Cardinals refused to fold.
Simonelli withstood some serious hits by the FHS defense and picked up most of the real estate by himself.
“Jordan took a pounding tonight,” said Triad coach Joe Cardinal. “However, he’s tough and the type of kid you’d want in the fox hole with you.”
“Our defense pounded Simonelli,” agreed Cotter. “He’s a tough kid.”
Simonelli concluded the series with a three-yard scoring run.
His extra point failed, leaving the Cards down 28-13.
Nicol’s second running TD of the night covered six yards. Olson’s PAT staked the Panthers to a 35-13 margin.
The Panthers had scored touchdowns on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
It was now only natural that the special teams got into the act.
Fairbanks’ defense pinned the Cardinals down at their own 15, forcing them to punt on fourth-and-20.
The Panthers broke through the Triad line and blocked the kick. Josh Powell bounced on the pigskin in the end zone for the touchdown.
Olson’s extra point carried the Panthers into the turn with a 42-13 advantage.
“Fairbanks is the type of team that will exploit you,” said Cardinal.
Simonelli was intercepted by FHS’ Mason Cushman on the first series of the third period.
The Panthers, however, could not capitalize and had to punt.
Triad returned the favor and Fairbanks mounted its next scoring drive.
The series stalled after an incomplete pass.
There were no worries, however, as Olson was summoned for a field goal attempt. She boomed a 35-yarder that pushed the home team out to a 45-13 advantage.
With the margin more than 30 points, the continuous clock rule went into effect.
It continued that way as action moved into the fourth quarter.
It would not stay that way for long.
Triad converted Bruce’s interception of a Braxton Wilhelm pass into a score.
The Cardinals regained possession on the FHS 21 after the pick and Simonelli later scored on a four-yard run.
The two-point conversion failed, leaving Triad down 45-19.
That returned the clock to regular time.
Another FHS turnover led to yet another Cardinal score.
Triad’s Riley Louck forced a fumble, scooped up the ball and rambled 30 yards into the end zone.
Simonelli broke through the line for the two-point conversion that pulled the Cardinals (who will travel to West Jefferson on Friday) to within 45-27.
The Panthers (who will go on the road to Mechanicsburg on Friday) extracted a little revenge on their next series when Chase Litzke raced 50 yards for a touchdown.
The extra point failed, but FHS held a commanding 51-27 lead.
The teams then exchanged turnovers to conclude the game.
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