By Austin Bishop
The Winston County Journal
Some thoughts are just hard to push out of your mind. For the French Camp Academy Panthers, some of those thoughts circulate around their 20-17 loss to Stringer in the 2012 MHSAA Class 1A State Championship Game.
FCA held a 17-13 lead in the fourth quarter of that contest at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson, before Stringer’s Tevin Moore scored on a 5-yard run to lead the Red Devils to the win.
“We can’t help but talk about last year,” FCA head coach Nathan Wright said last Friday night, just moments after his team’s 30-20 win over Lumberton sent the Panthers into a re-match with Stringer — this time for the 2013 1A South State title. The winner will play for the 2013 championship on Friday, Dec. 6 at 11 a.m. in Jackson. “They have had it on their minds since the beginning of the year. That’s who they want to get back down there to play.”
A lot has changed since last season. Both teams graduated some key players off their respective 2012 teams and because of redistricting FCA was moved from the North to the South.
But some key things have stayed the same. Both are still among the strongest Class 1A teams in the state, both have their star quarterbacks (Moore for Stringer and Jesse Hosket for FCA) returning and one of the two will be playing for a state title.
French Camp travels to Stringer on Friday night to take on the 12-1 Red Devils in a game that is set to kick off at 7.
“They want to play Stringer,” Wright said of his Panthers. “I have got to believe we will be up for it. It will be a great game. We have a long haul to get down there, but we are looking forward to the trip.”
“It’s a re-match,” said FCA senior running back Hagan Box. “We are excited about it and ready to go. I think we will have a great week of practice because we are going to be motivated.”
While both teams are in the same place — one game away from a shot at a state championship — they certainly got there in different ways.
Stringer, led by Moore, has had little trouble this season, with its only loss coming 61-55 to Natchez Cathedral in the fifth week of the season. Including that loss, the high-scoring Red Devils have scored at least 40 points nine times this season. Stringer is currently on an eight-game winning streak, which includes playoff wins over Nanih Waiya (40-0) and Hinds AHS (21-6).
French Camp’s story is more than just slightly different. The Panthers lost their first four games of the season, including a 20-13 set back to Noxapater in the region opener in the fourth week of the season. FCA then went on a four-game winning streak to move to 4-4 of the year, setting up a dramatic match-up against Pelahatchie.
The homestanding Chiefs easily defeated FCA 50-21, dropping the Panthers to 4-5 and putting a spot in the playoffs in jeopardy as well. But then something happened. The oft-injured Panthers began to get healthy.
“It was just before the Ethel game when we began to make the changes we needed to make,” Wright said. “We weren’t totally healthy, but we began to get some of our guys back, even though they may have had a cast or two. We just decided to put our seniors in there and go with them and said ‘you win it or lose it.’ They have responded to the call since then.”
The Panthers defeated Ethel 36-0, then pulled a minor shocker when they blew away Nanih Waiya 54-6. Just the week before the Warriors of NW had upset league-leading Noxapater 20-14 in overtime.
That put FCA into a must-win situation at Sebastopol to close out the regular season. Win and the Panthers finished third in Region 3-1A and earned one of the league’s four playoff spots. Lose and their dreams of returning to the state title game were dashed.
The Panthers responded with a 49-8 win.
Two weeks ago the Panthers rallied from 18 points down in the second half to take a 37-34 playoff win at Bogue Chitto, before taking the 30-20 win over Lumberton on Friday night to improve to 9-5 on the season.
“We are just getting our heart back,” Box said. “We wanted to win. We got a couple of guys back and everybody is healthy. In a sense, we are undefeated,” he said, referring to the Panthers five-game winning streak.