“Coach Shores made sure we practiced hard this week and we think we beat them practice this week, Wills said. We worked. Coach Shores instilled in us that we have to work hard in practice every day. I have to dedicate this the offensive line and the defense.”
Wills scored what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown on a 46-yard rumble on a vital third down play with 1:45 left in the game to put the Panthers ahead 20-13.
“I was tried after it,” Wills said. “I was just trying to make a play. They put the ball in my hands and they expected me to make a play so I tried it.”
Austin struggled most the game on capitalizing when getting in Pell City territory, but the change on their last possession. Christopher Sparkman found Mailque Elliot six times for 57- yards, including a 3-yard touchdown. The extra point conversion was no good as the holder bobble the snap and was brought down by a host of Panthers.
Ira Burch recovered the onside kick attempt.
“Any playoff win is a huge win,” Pell City head coach David Shores said. “It was a ugly win. We missed some opportunities in the first half and in the second half. The defense played well enough to hold them out. The offense was able to move the ball when they had to. The big run by Damaurian late in the game sealed the deal for us. The kids just kept playing hard. They had three turnovers and we might have had two, so we stayed plus one in the turnovers. We thought if we won the turnover battled we had a chance and if we tackled 24. All but one series, I think we held him in check. I am very proud of the defense effort and we did what we had to do win on offense.
The Panther turned the football over on the opening kick off, but they able to hold the Black Bears without points.
The Panthers were able to put together an 80 yard drive together for a touchdown. Austin Martin started the drive with a 21-yard run to midfield. A few plays later Wills leaped over an Austin defender for a 17-yard run. The Panther then got a little lucky as an Austin defender let an interception go through his hands into Burch’s hands for a 42-yard reception. Burch capped off the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run. The PAT was good to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead.
“It has been sort of a magical year here and there,” Shores said. “The Oxford game on fourth down when Casey caught the ball in between traffic. Guys breathing down Austin’s neck. This was one of those sort deals too .It was a tip ball and catch off the tip for a big first down. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.”
Austin responded on their next possession with a 72-yard drive for a touchdown. Joshua Walker scored from 6-yards out to tie the game at 7-7 with 3:35 left in the first.
The Panthers took a 14-7 lead right at the end of the first quarter. Logan The key play of the drive was a Martin to HD Fomby 9-yard reception on fourth down. The duo hooked again for 15 yards a few plays later to set first and goal at t9. Burch scored on the next play to make it 14-7.
The Panthers will travel to take on Hoover in the second round of the playoffs.
“It is big for our town, it is big for the school,” Shores said. “ It is huge for the kids. What a lot of people don’t understand and I mentioned to a reporter the other day. A playoff win today is bigger than the Oxford win and he said what do you mean. I say you get to go play the No.1 team in the state and a top 10 team in the nation. For these kids to be able to go do that and experience that and know what the top of the top is that’s huge. That’s what people do in the spring and you don’t get the opportunity this late in the year a lot of times is huge. There is pressure on both sides. You are going to get their best and hopefully, they will get our best.”