Braylen Ragland threw three touchdown passes, Bartlett’s defense made key plays at the right times, and the Panthers took down district foe Houston, 34-24, on the road Friday, Sept. 30.
The win puts Bartlett in second place in 6A Region 8, as Germantown (5-2, 2-2 6A Region 8) lost to district leader Collierville, which is undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the Dynamix West Tenn Media Power 10 ranking.
Houston (5-2, 3-1 in 6A Region 8) got on the board first, taking the opening reception the length of the field. Running back Damon Sisa, who had 236 yards rushing the week before in a win against Germantown, took it in from 3 yards out and it was quickly 7-0 Mustangs.
Bartlett (5-2, 3-1 in 6A Region 8) drove into Houston territory, but on third-and-11, Ragland’s pass went through Jeremiah “Snap” Reed’s hands and was intercepted by Mustang cornerback Chase Manning.
Houston drove down to the Panthers 19 yard line but Bartlett’s defense held, and Mustang kicker George Vezina missed a 35-yard field goal wide right.
Trailing 7-0 in the second quarter, Bartlett got its offense rolling and took it to the red zone. Ragland hit Snap Reed for a 14-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7.
Bartlett linebacker Nick Luster then intercepted Houston quarterback Chandler Day for a first down at the Houston 20 yard line.
On third down, Ragland was called for intentional grounding, a call that head coach Lance Tucker complained about and was assessed an unsportsmanlike-like conduct penalty for. Panthers kicker Zach Clutch made a 46-yard field goal that would have been good from 55 and Bartlett took the lead, 10-7.
Bartlett defensive back Rahmaan Rinkin, who had a huge game against Houston, intercepted a Day pass, giving the Panthers the ball at its own 48 with about 4 minutes left in the half.
But a holding penalty and a dropped pass probably cost Bartlett points on that drive.
In the second half, the Mustangs’ 6-foot-10-inch wide receiver Brock Vice went to work, catching a 37-yard pass to get deep inside Bartlett territory.
On third-and-7, Panthers cornerback Marco Tyson broke up a sure touchdown pass from Day to Vice and Houston had to settle for a 22-yard field goal, tying it 10-10.
Leading 13-10, Bartlett forced another Houston punt and got the ball on their own 31.
On the next play, Ragland threw a 69-yard touchdown pass to Deshaun Catron and Bartlett went up 20-10 with 2:30 left in the third quarter.
“We had a lot of big plays,” coach Tucker said after the game.
Just before the quarter ended, Houston faced a fourth-and-2 in its own territory and Bartlett’s defense prevented Sisa from getting to the sticks, and the Panthers were back in business at the Houston 37.
Panthers wide receiver Jade Kneeland, who made three big catches during the game, caught a Ragland pass on third-and-10 to give Bartlett a first down at the 23 yard line.
Ragland then hit senior Andrew Martin in the flats for another TD pass and Bartlett was rolling 27-10.
But Day, Sisa, Vice, and senior wide receiver Triton Lurry, in particular, are very talented and came right back.
Lurry ran the kickoff back to the Bartlett 34, then caught a Day pass to the 7 yard line. Sisa finished it with a 3-yard touchdown run and it was 27-17 with 8:40 left in the game.
Bartlett mounted a long, time-consuming drive on its next possession, running the ball mostly. With 4:02 remaining, Bartlett was on the Houston 34. Ragland handed off to Terrell Neal – his only carry in this game – and he bolted 34 yards for a score that gave Bartlett a 17-point lead.
Houston came right back and Sisa scored on a catch-and-run to make it 34-24. Houston tried an onside kick and forced a fumble, giving the Mustangs the ball right back.
On first-and-10 from the Bartlett 23, Day threw a high pass into the end zone to Vice, but while giving up a full foot in height, Rinkin managed to strip the ball out of Vice’s arms for an incomplete pass. Vice was shaken up on the play and was on the ground for a couple of minutes. But he returned.
On the next play, Day threw to Sisa in the flats and Rinkin ran up from his corner position and put a hit on him that resounded throughout Landers Ford Stadium, forcing Sisa to drop the ball for an incomplete pass. Sisa also would return after leaving the field injured.
On third-and-10, Day hit wide receiver Andre Allen, who was tackled at the 1 yard line.
Bartlett defensive end Austin Howard then recovered a Houston fumble at the Panthers 6 yard line with 1:36 left.
Houston used all three of its timeouts and Bartlett was facing a fourth-and-1 from its own 15. Tucker decided to go for it rather than punt, with still more than a minute remaining in the game.
Andrew Martin got the hand-off and made more than a yard, giving Bartlett a first down and the 34-24 victory.
“You just call what you see, and have faith in your kids,” Tucker said of the fourth-down decision. “They work it, they know what they are doing and sometimes you just have to step up and make a play.”
The win sets up a big game Oct. 21 at home against Collierville, although the Panthers can’t look past Cordova (1-5, 0-3 6A Region 8) on Friday night.
“We’re just game by game. The kids are working hard, they’re playing hard. They believe in what we’re trying to do and they’re trying to do it to the best of their ability,” he said.
Bartlett intercepted Day twice and recovered the late-game fumble, but also forced and recovered another Houston fumble late in the third quarter that was nullified by offsetting personal fouls by both teams.
“We had turnovers, they had turnovers. That’s just high school sports at its best. It was just two good teams duking it out,” Tucker said.
Ragland was an efficient 14-for-21 passing for 257 yards with the 3 touchdowns, hitting five different receivers and producing a 128.4 quarterback rating.
Rinkin almost had a second interception against Day late in the third quarter, but couldn’t quite hold on to the ball.
Bartlett held Sisa to just 52 yards rushing. The Mustangs running back had 236 rushing yards against Germantown a week earlier.
Deshaun Catron had 4 receptions for 98 yards, leading all Bartlett receivers in receiving yards. He made some big plays early to keep Bartlett in the game after Houston scored first and then had the dynamic 69-yard TD reception.
Rinkin’s hit on Sisa late in the game was reminiscent of the Lausanne game, when the senior cornerback made big hits that temporarily knocked two Lynx players out of the game, one of them senior running back Zamariyon Kendall, who ran for 140 yards and two scores against Bartlett on Sept. 9.
Tucker did not cuss when he was called for unsportsman-like conduct penalty for arguing an intentional grounding call against Ragland. Tucker was a good 25 yards or so from the referee who threw flag. Tucker had mentioned something to the effect of, “Do you remember our conversation in Arlington?” and that’s when the yellow flag came out.