Pensacola High had prided itself this season on rarely losing the football.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, the trend ended at the worst time.
Panama City Arnold produced a trio of turnovers, along two long scoring drives, including the go-ahead one with 2:32 remaining, then held on to defeat the Tigers 21-20 Friday night at Jim Scoggins Stadium. The loss spoiled homecoming and eliminated PHS from the District 1-5A postseason chase.
“The kids played hard, we just made too many mistakes,” said PHS coach Mike Mincy, whose team lost only one fumble before Friday night. “I felt like we pretty much controlled the game, but it was just one of those deals where you come out on the wrong end..
“But hey, we’ll get back at it Monday and try to get it fixed and get going again (for last three games).”
Three weeks ago, Arnold was 1-4. The Marlins are now 4-4 and will host West Florida High next week for their homecoming game in Panama City to try and seal a playoff berth in a wild 1-5A race. PHS fell to 4-3, 0-2 in district.
“From the time we came out of the locker room to the field, they really came prepared,” Arnold coach Josh Wright said. “(Players) knew we were not a bad 1-4 team and now we have worked into a 4-4 team and 2-1 in the district.
“Everything is happening the way we envisioned it … I think we played with a degree of valor (last night). We didn’t back down from some mighty tenacious players. They had a deep roster and they had athletic kids we were scared to death to kick to them.”
So fearful, Wright called for an onside kick after his team went up 21-20. It nearly worked. PHS wrestled the ball into a recovery at the Tigers 43.
A third down pass at the Arnold 30 was caught out of bounce. A fourth down pass was dropped at the 15 with 59 seconds left. The Marlins then ran out the clock.
Arnold senior quarterback Cody Saunders, who has committed to West Virginia, steered a 98 yard TD drive midway through the third quarter, then a 75-yard scoring drive to regain the lead. His 9-yard run on third down set up his 10-yard touchdown run around end.
The game’s decisive point was kicker Nick Guzman’s PAT. The Tigers missed their extra point after a go-ahead score, but the team’s placekicker, Noah Beeler, has been out all week suffering from mononucleosis and couldn’t play.
“It’s football. We knew we had to score a touchdown (on final drive),” Mincy said. “It’s football … that happens, but we’ll see how we bounce back and play next week.”
Saunders was effective with his legs and his right arm throughout the game. Anytime Arnold needed a play, he seemed to make one.
“We were coming into this game like it was the most important game of our lives,” Saunders said. “And now, we’re going into the next week knowing it’s most important. But we’ll come up (to school) in the morning bright and early (Saturday) early and start getting ready for next week.”
The first PHS fumble at its 29, led to Arnold’s first TD on the Marlins’ second possession. PHS then drove to the Marlins 3, but failed to convert on fourth down. A fumbled punt late in the second quarter allowed Arnold to flip field position.
The third PHS fumble occurred on the first series of the third quarter. Jamani Barnes was hit hard, the ball popped out and Arnold recovered its 2.
But the Tigers took the lead on their own long drive, a 94-yard, 6 play series, headlined by quarter Sederick Smith’s 68 yard run.
“We ran for a lot of yards, but we just didn’t finish,” Mincy said.