PEYTON — Up two points in the fourth quarter, Peyton called for a toss to the left side intended for running back JD Hart. The senior was surprised to CSCS sophomore Joe Dunn in the backfield, seemingly in a perfect position to steal the pitch and make a dash for the end zone.
Both players had their hands on the ball, but Hart wanted it more. As did the Panthers. Hart made his way into the end zone on that play, paving the way for Class 1A No. 5 Peyton to come away with a 37-19 over CSCS on Thursday night.
“I kind of freaked out for a minute because I thought he was going to take the ball,” Hart said.
With good reason. The Panthers (2-0 overall) held just a two-point lead when that play happened. If Dunn comes up with it and takes it for a CSCS touchdown, the Lions (1-1) all of sudden would've been up four.
It was that much of a battle on Thursday.
CSCS started the game with the ball and gave Peyton a heavy dose of Peyton Brones on the ground. The junior got the Lions within striking distance and then Grant Baker finished the opening drive off with an 11-yard touchdown run.
“We came out a little flat and they punched us in the mouth," Peyton coach Richard Deems said. "They came out and they were ready to play. That’s a good football team and we knew that. We’ve had some tough battles with them before.”
The Panthers finally found a groove on the ground and it was Josh Gonzales scoring on a three-yard run that gave them a 7-6 lead. Trevor Walker pushed it to 15-6 right before halftime with a five-yard touchdown run.
Starting the second half, it looked like Peyton was poised to dominate as Walker found Brandon Hussey through the air for 25 yards. But then the Panthers started moving backwards. Momentum got stifled but it took the Lions a few drives to fully capitalize on those opportunities.
Brones scored his first touchdown on a two-yard run. Early in the fourth quarter Walker broke for a 39-yard touchdown run to once again make it a two-score game. Brones immediately answered with a 65-yard to once again put the Lions within two points.
Hart took over from there on out. On top of the nine-yard score where he ripped the ball away from Dunn, he also drove in the final nail with a 15-yard score. Overall he finished with 15 carries for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
"Hats off to Peyton, they took it when they needed to," CSCS coach Jay Kersey said. "They ran the ball very well when they needed to.”
Before Hart's last score of the game, the Lions still had a chance to battle back. Facing a 4th and 6, Caleb Stockton's pass was picked off by Clay Sims.
With some of the defensive struggles early for Peyton, it was a confident booster for the game to be decided on a mentally sound defensive play.
"My read was just to watch the quarterback’s eyes and he came right across to me and I was able to step in and take it,” Sims said.
That was the key for the Panthers. When everything was on the line, they didn't settle for wanting it. They got their hands on the ball and they took it.