It was almost as if Beckett knew what was coming when the eighth-ranked Panthers hosted unbeaten Class 1A, Region 7 foe Donoho on Friday.
The Falcons were the aggressors early, forcing a turnover that led to a touchdown and the first deficit the Panthers had faced all season. Collinsville responded with 31 unanswered points and held on for a 38-19 victory to improve to 5-0 overall and in Region 7.
“We didn’t lay down,” Beckett said. “We saw adversity and we handled it. Our seniors have a lot of character and a lot of class. They bowed their back and made a lot of great plays.”
One of those seniors Beckett was referring to is senior tailback Daniel Bradford. Bradford ran most effectively against the Falcons (4-1, 4-1), rushing for 118 yards on 18 carries and scoring four touchdowns in the win.
“They (Donoho) knew how to handle the outside and the inside, but we just have a good line,” Bradford said. “I think all of it has to do with my linemen. I couldn’t do anything without them.”
Beckett said Bradford “kept churning his legs and just wouldn’t be denied.”
“We were able to run a lot of power stuff in between,” Beckett said. “He was able to run inside. We were able to run the toss and he was able to score outside too.”
But before Bradford was able to get his game going, it was the Falcons who took the early momentum. They recovered a fumble on a lateral pass, setting up shop at the Panther 38-yard line.
After a holding call pushed the Falcons back 10 yards, senior quarterback Marshall Ghee connected with senior receiver George McMillan for a 48-yard touchdown. Ghee’s extra point made it 7-0 Falcons with 10:13 to go in the first quarter.
Donoho’s touchdown seemed to serve a wake-up call to the Panthers. They answered with a 7-play, 80-yard drive in which Bradford scored his first touchdown – this one a 9-yard run. David Hernandez’s kick tied the game at 7.
“We saw some heads go down after that first touchdown, but our senior leaders and our other leaders did a good job of keeping everybody up,” senior receiver Edgar Padilla said. “We handled it really well.”
After the Panther defense forced the Falcons to a three-and-out on their next possession, Bradford scored again. This time, he took a pitch and darted down the right side for a 28-yard touchdown with 4:56 remaining in the first quarter, giving the Panthers a 14-7 lead.
Donoho was putting together a substantial drive early in the second quarter, but it ended on a fumble after a catch by Kevin Carr. Senior safety Justin Little pounced on the loose ball and returned it to the Collinsville 47-yard line. Seven plays later, Bradford scored his third touchdown on a 3-yard run, putting the Panthers up 21-7 with 7:05 left before halftime.
The Panther defense came up with another stop of the Falcons on their next possession to force another punt, but the ball touched a Collinsville player and was recovered by the Falcons at the Panther 47-yard line.
Again, the Panther ‘D’ rose to the occasion and forced the Falcons into a fourth-and-8. Donoho used a bit of trickery as Ghee faked the punt and completed a pass to junior Chris Carr, but the reception fell just short of a first down.
Collinsville marched down to the Donoho 20, but had to settle for a field goal. Hernandez booted a 38-yarder to increase the Panthers’ lead to 24-7 with 45.7 seconds to go in the half.
Disaster struck the Falcons again after Ghee tossed an interception to Panther sophomore linebacker Brady Osborn. Osborn returned the ball to the Falcon 29, and the Panthers cashed it in one play later on Padilla’s touchdown grab delivered by senior quarterback C.J. Jones with 6.9 seconds on the clock before halftime.
“Right before the half, we felt like if we could get in the end zone, we would give ourselves a chance, especially having the ball first in the second half,” Donoho coach Shannon Felder said. “Our quarterback made a bad read and threw a bad pass. That put them into position to score another touchdown. In less than a minute, they scored 10 points on us. They scored 21 points on turnovers, and that’s what good teams do.”
Beckett said he emphasized turnovers to his team during their preparation for the Falcons.
“We knew they would throw the ball a whole lot,” he said. “That was big. You know when the ball is going to be in the air that much, there’s going to be some chances to make some plays. Our secondary did a great job of breaking in on some of those passes.”
The disastrous end to the first half didn’t rattle the Falcons. McMillan recovered a fumble by Deshawn Moore on a punt, giving Donoho the ball at the Panther 29. Nine plays later, Chris Carr drove in from 4-yards out. Padilla blocked Ghee’s extra point, keeping the score at 31-13 Panthers.
Donoho scored again just before the end of the third quarter on Ghee’s 12-yard connection with Chris Carr. The Falcons went for two, but were denied. However, the Falcons were in striking distance, trailing 31-19 with a whole quarter left to play.
Ghee finished the game 10 of 17 through the air for 131 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
After a Panther punt, Donoho looked as if it might etch even closer, but Moore picked off Ghee to kill another promising drive with 6:42 left.
Five plays after the interception, Bradford found the end zone for a final time on a 1-yard run with 3:58 remaining in the fourth quarter. Hernandez added the extra point for the final.
“They scored seven points in the second half, which shows a lot for our defense to come back and play pretty solidly,” Felder said. “The seven points they did score, we put ourselves in position again off a turnover. If we would have played the first half like we played the second half, we’d have had a much better ball game.”
Beckett commended Donoho for fighting back in the game.
“It’s tough being down 31-7 to make it into a ball game,” he said. “We had one possession and they controlled it the whole time (in the second half). They were able to run the football. We didn’t get them stopped on some third-and-longs, some fourth-and-longs. We’ve got to be able to slow people down in those situations.”
With the win, Collinsville can now turn its attention to another unbeaten team: No. 7 Cedar Bluff.
“It’s going to be one of the biggest weeks of the season,” Padilla said. “We’ve beaten them three years in a row, and we’re going to try and make it four. They’ve got a real good offense and a real strong defense. It’s going to be tough, but if we play the way we can play, I think we can pull it off.”