Senior staff writer
The second Battle of Perry Township turned into a nail-biter Friday as Southport and Perry Meridian collided in a 6A football sectional at Perry Stadium.
The battle was so unlike the first encounter when Southport took an early 27-0 lead Sept. 2 and dominated the Falcons 48-14. This time Southport escaped with a 20-13 win.
Southport dominated the first half. Senior running back Andrew Mappes scored on runs of 14, 2 and 3 yards, gaining 65 yards on 13 carries. The Cardinals’ defense forced the Falcons to go three-and-out in their first four possessions. The Falcons did not get a first down until their first play, an 11-yard pass, in the second half.
“The first half felt really good,” Mappes said. “The line was making the blocks; we were making plays and executing. They (Perry Meridian) picked up on some things in the second half. It was a little rough but we had to out there and keep grinding it out. The defense stepped up and saved the game.”
Trailing 20-0 at halftime, Perry Meridian scored two touchdowns in the second half and threatened to score from the 16-yard line in the final minute of the game.
The underdog Falcons launched a 52-yard drive that benefited from a fourth-down, 21-yard pass from quarterback TJ Comer to Jeffery Wells and a pass interference penalty to reach the red zone.”
The Falcons’ drive ended on a fourth-down pass that fell short of Wells just inside the end zone with less than a minute left.
“We’re a much-improved team and we just fight and fight,” first-year Falcons’ coach Matt Henninger said. “We created turnovers. We wanted to make good plays defensively and then see what we could do offensively.”
The Falcons stunned Southport with two second-half interceptions. Senior linebacker Riley Miller returned one 46 yards to put Perry Meridian on the scoreboard late in the third quarter. Southport then drove to the 20 before junior defensive back Carlos Shane picked off a pass.
The Falcons launched an 80-yard touchdown drive capped by Wells’ dive into the end zone for the final margin with 5:49 left.
“The interception for a touchdown sparked them,” Southport coach Brandon Winters said. “We struggled in the second half, but we made plays at the end of the game.”
The Falcons (3-7) lose 20 seniors, but Henninger is optimistic, expecting the return of starting quarterback Jalen Lee, who left the game early with an ankle injury, Wells, Shane, defensive back Will Compton and running back Franklin Hammond.
“From our scrimmage against Chatard to this sectional game, the improvement was unbelievable,” Henninger said. “Our toughness was always there. We’ll build on this going forward.”