After putting up 68 points a week ago, the Panthers kept chugging along on Senior Night against Central with second place in Region 4-AAA and a home playoff berth on the line.
Trey Mitchell rushed 35 times for 135 yards and four touchdowns to pace Chapel Hill’s offense and the Panthers took advantage of three Central turnovers in a 41-21 victory over the Lions at Panther Stadium.
The Panthers missed the playoffs the past two seasons and came into Friday’s game in second place. But nothing — not even a playoff berth — was assured with four teams vying for the final three spots in the region.
First-year Chapel Hill coach Geoff Pastrick had his team ready in every facet and the Panthers played a near flawless 48 minutes of football to claim the No. 2 spot and a home playoff game with the convincing win over the Lions.
“It’s huge for our seniors to kind of get us there, huge for them so they can experience that,” Pastrick said. “And it’s huge for our program. Now our kids are going to know what it feels like to come out for a home playoff game and know what they’re working for in the offseason. I’m so proud of these guys. It’s unbelievable.”
The game was Central’s final regular-season game. The Lions have already wrapped up a playoff berth, but now must await where their fate rests next week. Central, which has been hampered by turnovers, put the ball on the ground six times and turned it over on three of those drops.
“At times this year, we’ve had long stretches of consistent play, but unfortunately it seems to rear its ugly head again once you think you’ve put it to bed,” Central coach Grant Chesnut said.
Chapel Hill (6-3, 5-1 Region 4-AAA) scored on its first three possessions to grab a 20-0 lead and take control of the game from the outset. Tre Owens ran a punt back 70 yards after Central’s first drive faltered at its 45 and Danny Williams’ PAT gave Chapel Hill a 7-0 lead early in the first.
Central’s second drive stalled at its own 33 and the Lions’ fake punt attempt failed when quarterback Wesley Long threw an incomplete pass. With a short field, Chapel Hill needed just five plays to get Mitchell in the end zone on a five-yard run with 5:42 in the first quarter. Williams’ PAT missed, making it 13-0 Chapel Hill.
On the ensuing kickoff, Central fumbled and Marquise Bedford recovered for the Panthers, setting Mitchell up for a one-yard TD run. Kyle Terrell, Central’s leading rusher, scored the first of two touchdowns on a two-yard run midway through the second quarter. Terrell’s score capped a seven-play drive for the Lions (5-5, 4-3). Long’s 17-yard keeper on third-and-six at the Central 48 kept the drive going.
But Central couldn’t get much more going on offense the rest of the half. Long was sacked by Panther defenders Jovan Citizen and Daryl George as the finals seconds of the first half ticked off with the Panthers up 20-7.
Chapel Hill went three-and-out to start the second half and Central found life with an eight-play drive, capped by another Terrell touchdown, this time from one-yard out to cut it to 20-14 with 2:21 to go in the third.
But Chapel Hill went back to Mitchell to make sure Central didn’t get any closer. Mitchell ran right at the Lions on nine of the 10 plays in the drive, finishing it with a one-yard blast up the middle for paydirt with 9:55 left in the fourth to put the Panthers up 27-14.
Central fumbled the ensuing kickoff after Bedford hit the Lion receiver and Owens fell on the fumble to give the Panthers the ball back at the
Central 21. Mitchell punched it in from a yard out six plays as Chapel Hill pulled away with a 34-14 lead.
Jamarcus Morrissette had the Panthers final touchdown on a 65-yard run late in the game.
Curtis Davenport added a 10-yard touchdown run for the Lions with 1:20 left in the game to cap the scoring.
Terrell had 10 carries for 71 yards to lead Central. Jayleen Terry had 14 carries for 40 yards.