(Carmen Rodgers) Elmore County High School's Jazion Reed stops Handley High School's Devontea Houston during Friday night's game against the Panthers and the Tigers.

Up by three scores with just four minutes left to play, it looked like the Elmore County Panthers had sealed a homecoming victory and a high point to a disappointing football season. But Dallas County wasn’t willing to let the Gatorade bath flow so easily in the non-region game. 

A quick series of runs by Hornet running back Aaron Fails tightened the margin. Then quarterback Calvin Griffin found Fredrico Tyre behind the secondary for an 84-yard touchdown. With two-point conversions on both plays, Dallas County just needed another possession to ruin Eclectic’s homecoming. 

But Panther seniors Ethan Geer and Hayden Holton weren’t going to let that happen. On the first kickoff attempt, which was negated by an offsides flag, Holton leaped high in the air to secure the ball. On the Hornets’ final try, Geer dove on the bouncing ball and secured a measure of jubilation for the packed house of Panther fans with a 35-30 homecoming win. 

“It wasn’t easy by any means,” ECHS coach Jordan Cantrell said. “It was a nerve-wracking game. I don’t like that. But we did what we had to do to pull it out at the end. I believed in our dudes. They wanted to win this game, so we did.”

The Panthers’ wing-T rushing attack ruled the evening, with four different rushers getting significant carries. ECHS senior Keshawn Brown led in yardage with 127 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. He also pulled down a key fourth-quarter interception. 

LaPatrick Brown got three touchdowns and 85 yards on 21 carries for Elmore County (2-6). And Geer pitched in with 76 yards on six carries. 

“(Geer) has come on as a really good football player, as Z (position) in our Wing-T,” Cantrell said. “He’s been good blocking, and then he carries the reverse really well.” 

That reverse play set up Brown’s second touchdown of the night, when Geer sliced against the grain from the ECHS 40 and was dragged down by only his facemask at the Hornet 2-yard line. Brown finished the drive with a one-yard dive. 

Kicker Zac Jones was again perfect on point-after kicks with five. He also made a pair of key fourth-quarter punts to deny Dallas County (3-6) a short field in the tight contest.

Cantrell noted the homecoming captains, who were elected by their teammates, were Holton and senior lineman Bryson Caudle. He also praised the progress made by lineman Tanner Bolt, a key cog in the wing-T machine. Holton led Panthers defensively with eight tackles. Keith Ballard and Cole Boothe added five tackles each. 

Dallas County coach Heath Lavert said the Panthers run their wing-T offense “to borderline perfection.”

“It’s a difficult offense to stop, and it’s very difficult to replicate in practice,” he said. 

Lavert said Elmore County’s defense deprived the Hornets of what their offense really needs: momentum. 

“With the type of offense we run — up tempo — we really need first down after first down to keep it going,” he said. “We just didn’t get that (Friday).”

Elmore County outgained the Hornets 421 yards to 326 and more than doubled Dallas County in time of possession. 

Panther players were jubilant at the victory, hugging friends and teammates, posing for pictures, and dousing Cantrell with the ceremonial Gatorade bath. 

“I’m proud of our guys and how they’ve battled against the adversity that we’ve faced,” the dripping coach said. “We might not have a big roster like a lot of the teams we’ve faced but they work and fight harder than many I’ve seen.”