There could be more on the line when Carolina Forest and Conway meet next season.
But on Friday night, the rivals had just bragging rights to play for as both teams were already mathematically eliminated from the Class AAAA playoffs.
The Panthers held off a late Conway comeback attempt as Cameron Cauble picked off Tigers quarterback Peyton Derrick with over a minute left to seal a 35-28 victory as Carolina Forest walked away with just its third ever win in the schools’ 16 meetings.
“It was a good way to end the game,” Panthers receiver James Long said. “It was an emotional ride, it was senior night and we all came out and busted our tails. But I thought that was a good way to end the game.”
After Conway scored on its opening possession, the Panthers had three straight touchdowns to go up 20-7. Will Brunson scored on a 53-yard read-option run and Dyverse Simmons scored two rushing touchdowns to lead 20-7 at the end of the first quarter.
Simmons scored his third rushing touchdown of the night in the second quarter, but Derrick threw two touchdowns in the second quarter to cut Conway’s deficit to one score.
The Tigers recovered an onside kick with under a minute left before halftime, but Conway couldn’t find the end zone as the Panthers entered the half leading 27-21.
“We had a good first half,” Simmons said. “I thought we came out and proved that we wanted this more than them and then that last drive really proved that. I’m proud of my team.”
Jah’Maine Martin scored his second touchdown of the night on a 50-yard run to give Conway a 28-27 advantage in third quarter.
James Long caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Brunson with about nine minutes left to give the Panthers their lead back, 35-28.
That was the final score of the night.
Both the Tigers and Panthers will have many of the same players next season and after both teams showing improvement at the end of the year, the teams could have an exhilarating rematch.
“It’s a big game, a rivalry. It’s a little bigger than the other ones,” Long said. “It’s the end of the year and we wanted to go out on a high note and the seniors definitely want to leave on a high note. To finish the year, I think it’s going to leave a bad taste in their mouth and we’re going to have a good start to next year.”
Conway finished the season 2-9 and had a 1-4 record in Region VI-AAAA.
Meanwhile, it was just the first Region VI-AAAA win of the year for the Panthers, as they finished the season 3-8 overall and 1-4 in the region.
“Our team is going to be really good next year,” Simmons said. “Just watch.”
In the meantime, Carolina Forest’s first-year coach Marc Morris was proud of his kids and had some words for his team after the game.
“Remember this feeling right here,” Morris said to his team, which fell to Conway 47-12 last season before Morris took over. “Before the game I asked all the kids who played last year, ‘Do you remember what you felt like after last year’s game?’ and it wasn’t good. But this is where it begins, how you feel right now. We’re going to use this win to our advantage.”