WOODRUFF – Chapman was in a bad spot.
With a couple of penalties stacked back-to-back on the same play, what looked to be a promising drive for the Panthers was now 2nd-and-35, putting their nip-and-tuck game against Woodruff in even greater jeopardy.
The Panthers covered the yardage in two plays, the first-down conversion coming on a run by Matthai Scott that drug a pile of defenders along for the ride on the last several yards. Chapman scored on the drive to take a 29-22 lead, never trailed again, and won 57-34 in a game that was very much in doubt until late in the final quarter.
“That was big for us,” Chapman coach Harry Cabaniss said. “Our coaches know that if we get out around the 40, unless we have a negative play, I’m probably going to give them four downs to get it. It’s just kind of a weird statistical thing, and we’ve done it for two or three years now. It bites us sometimes, but it allows them to know they’ve got a little room and be a little more free.”
That drive finished the scoring in a weird half of football. Chapman jumped out to a 14-0 lead early behind a power running game and a huge completion from Coleman Gray to Colt McPeters. Gray and Scott provided the scores on the ground.
Woodruff came storming back, with T.J. Morris putting together two big drives at QB in his first varsity start. He tossed a TD to Kory Scott, Tre Rodgers added a TD run, and after a penalty on a PAT, the Wolverines two-point conversion put them in front 15-14 early in the second.
The teams traded scores, with Gray and Rodgers scoring their second TDs of the night to knot the game at 22 before the Panthers’ big drive to take the lead for good. Cabaniss thought the big conversion, combined with the Panthers’ score, changed the game mentally as much as physically.
“It’s definitely a mentality thing,” he said. “You could see it. ‘Wow, that just happened.’ And then we went and scored. That was really big, and I felt like from there we started getting better.”
Woodruff pulled to within a point late in the third when Morris found Nick McConnell for a 7-yard score, then got the ball back with a huge defensive stand deep in its own territory. But Chapman’s Hank Tolleson pounced on a fumble and Keanu Na scored three plays later to push the lead to 36-28.
Woodruff wasn’t done, with Morris finding Scott for a 50-yard TD to pull to within two. The Wolverines couldn’t convert for two, and Chapman led 36-34 with 10:27 to play.
The rest of the fourth quarter was all Chapman. They got a big kick return from Cunningham, and a grind-it-out drive with Gray and Na leaning on the Panthers’ big offensive line to chew up yards and clock. Gray scored from a yard out with four minutes left to largely put the game away. Chapman got a pair of interceptions late, with Hudson Moss returning one to the Woodruff 4-yard line. That led to Bennett Smith’s first TD of the night on the next play. His second came on Woodruff’s next drive, when he returned a pick of his own 65-yards for a score.
Cabaniss said the win – and the ability to gut it out despite some defensive struggles – were a testament to senior leadership.
“It’s going to be defense by committee this year, because we’ve got to have them on offense,” he said. “I’m a defensive guy, so I’m kind of having to bite the bullet. But it’s great for these guys. We’ve got 19 seniors, and 15 of them have played together since fourth grade. They’re not going to flinch. They’re not going to stop kicking it in high gear. That’s our mentality. You don’t train for the blowouts. You train for the close ones.”