Panthers suffer first loss of season as Collierville rolls
After falling 42-12 to Olive Branch (Miss.) to start the season, the Dragons have outscored their opponents 94-21 in the two games since. Meanwhile, Bartlett — coming off wins against Overton and Bolton to start its 2017 campaign — stumbled in its first loss.
The Dragons jumped out in front early on a 16-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Connors to Justin Stonework less than three minutes into the game. On the ensuing possession, CHS’ Virgil Pryor picked off Bartlett quarterback Preston Raines and the Dragons were soon in the end zone again as Cole Johnson sprinted 25 yards for a touchdown.
Quickly down 14-0, the Panthers rallied with an 80-yard scoring drive that saw receiver JJ Vaden pull in a Raines pass with one hand on fourth and 11 from the Collierville 33 to keep the drive alive. Running back Melvin Turnage capped things off with a 4-yard touchdown run to put the Panthers on the board.
The Dragons then muffed a squib kick, with Bartlett’s Ethan Reeves recovering the loose ball. Six plays later, the Panthers tied things up as Raines hit Tamarious Brown on an 8-yard scoring pass.
Collierville Head Coach Mike O’Neill admitted his team basically lost control for the second part of the first quarter.
“We had a half-quarter meltdown,” he said. “We’ve just got to get these guys to play four quarters. We do it in pockets.”
The Dragons would right the ship on their next possession, however. With 1:35 remaining in the opening quarter, CHS stormed down the field with an 80-yard drive, highlighted by Stonework catching consecutive 20-yard passes — the second for a touchdown with no time remaining – to put the Dragons up 21-14.
After Cade Cupp picked off a Raines pass that was tipped by receiver Jacob Robinson, the Dragons converted a fourth-and-five play from the Bartlett 14 when Marcus Bersoza took a Connors pass into the end zone for another score. Later, facing fourth and goal at the Bartlett 4-yard line with 45 seconds left in the half, Connors threw a touchdown pass to Kayvon Anderson to give the Dragons a 35-14 halftime lead.
Though his team rebounded strongly from its first-quarter hiccup, O’Neill said he talked with his players about refocusing for the second half.
“We talked about maintaining our composure at halftime,” he noted. “We made simple adjustments.”
Connors and Stonework connected for two more scores in the third on passes of 14 and 20 yards, as the Dragons put the game completely out of reach. Stonework finished with 10 receptions for 162 yards and four touchdowns.
Bartlett added a score late in the fourth on a 3-yard Myron Washington touchdown run. Panthers Head Coach Tim Haney said while it’s hard to tell from a game like this, he feels his team is continuing to improve.
“Our depth is not quite there yet to play 6-A football and be competitive week after week,” he acknowledged. “I’m proud of (my players). They hung in there. We’ve just got to get better.”
While Connors finished 21/31 for 293 yards and six touchdowns, several of those incompletions were due to drops by receivers. O’Neill said Connors’ poise in those situations has been impressive
“I really like what Matt Connors … is doing,” he said. “He’s maintaining his composure. His leadership, I’m really buying into.”
Collierville (2-1) will travel to Germantown next week to face the undefeated Red Devils, while Bartlett (2-1) will host Sheffield (0-3).
Written by Michael Ward, special to the Express.