PELION — Fairfield Central (9-0, 4-0) went on the road Friday night and did something they haven’t had to do all season: win in comeback fashion.
The Griffins scored 26 unanswered points to defeat the Panthers of Pelion (5-4, 3-1) by a score of 33-16.
After the game, Fairfield head coach Demetrius Davis said he was proud of the way his team responded facing a deficit.
“It had been a little while since we’ve been in an adverse situation,” he stated. “Coming in, I wanted to see how the team would respond when adversity hit, and let me tell you something — those guys came out and they believed they could win. And once you believe that then you can get it done.”
With the win Fairfield Central secured the Region III-AA title and also claimed a top seed in the AA state playoffs.
Pelion’s first drive ended with a turnover on downs. On the Fairfield 34-yard line, facing a fourth down and five yards to go, Panthers’ running back Freddie Phillips was stopped one yard short of the first down marker.
Fairfield took over possession and drove 70 yards in 10 plays over three minutes to take the early lead. Joseph Young dove toward the pylon from 10 yards out to give the Griffins a 7-0 advantage. The drive was fueled by 58 yards on the ground.
Pelion would again be turned away on fourth down on its next drive. The Griffins’ defense came up with a stop on their own 15-yard line. The Griffins were unable to take advantage because their drive ended when DeAndre Belton threw this fourth interception of the season.
Pelion took over possession at the Fairfield 37-yard line, and it took just two plays for the Panthers to capitalize on the only turnover of the game. Ervin Green broke through up the middle and trotted into the endzone from 33 yards out. The two-point attempt was successful after a Phillips’ run to give his team the lead 8-7.
The two teams traded a turnover on downs and the Griffins went into halftime trailing for the first time this season, down 8-7. Fairfield held the ball for just six minutes in the first half while Pelion possessed it for 18 minutes.
Going into the game, Davis knew Pelion wanted to control the clock with a run oriented offense.
“We didn’t have the ball but three times in the first half and I knew they (Pelion) were going to be able to milk the clock,” he noted after the game.
To start the second half, the Griffins drove 11 plays in four minutes, but were turned away on a fourth and goal attempt from the Pelion 20-yard line. The Griffins drive suffered a setback after committing a holding penalty inside the 10-yard line.
On the ensuing drive and leading 8-7, Pelion carried the football seven times for 80 yards before scoring off a Zach Hawkins 25-yard touchdown run. Pelion converted on its second two-point attempt and took a 16-7 lead halfway through the third quarter. It was the largest deficit faced by Fairfield all season. The drive was assisted by two defensive penalties including a facemask and a personal foul.
However the Griffins wouldn’t be down for long, as the offense took over possession at their own 33-yard line following the kickoff. Belton began an aerial attack that would take just two plays and 17 seconds to score.
The drive started with a 27-yard completion to Tyren White and on the next play, Belton rolled out to his left and fired a pass deep to a streaking Kewan Squirewell, who caught the pass over the shoulder for a 40-yard touchdown. After a failed two-point conversion, the Griffins cut into the deficit 16-13.
That little bit of momentum would continue for the Griffins on Pelion’s next drive. Facing a third down and inches to go, the Panthers would be forced to punt for the first time. The Griffins gang tackled Hawkins behind the line of scrimmage.
After the game, Davis talked about some of the defensive changes his staff made to slow down the Pelion running attack.
“We went more to our four-hands (four defensive lineman) formation because they were running a lot of dives up the middle,” he noted. “That extra lineman in the game closed up the middle and made them have to go somewhere else with the football.”
With momentum fully on Fairfield’s side, Compton Walker fielded the punt in stride at midfield and galloped down the right sideline untouched for the touchdown to give Fairfield their first lead of the game, 20-16.
Davis believes that was the play changed the course of the game.
“That return by Compton (Walker) just opened it up for us,” he said. “Without that return, I don’t know how that game ends up. Because everybody was looking around waiting for someone to make a play and Compton stepped up a made the big play we needed.”
After trailing 16-7, Fairfield Central had scored 13 points in less than four minutes to take the lead and shock the Panthers on their home field.
The Griffins would go on to score two more times in the fourth quarter to earn a 33-16 victory. Belton scored off a 33-yard touchdown run when he darted up the middle like a flash of lightning, and Javaris Cook caught his fourth touchdown of the season, when he became open on a wheel route after the defense was caught double covering Kewan Squirewell.
Fairfield ended the game by scoring 26 unanswered points on the road, and answerer many questions about how they would respond when faced with adversity.
“We were up against the ropes and we had to fight back,” Davis. “I couldn’t be anymore prouder of the way they responded.”
Following their victory, the Griffins celebrated their region championship for all of 1.2 seconds.
“That’s over now,” Davis said. “And now our focus turns toward preparing for the teams that will be in our way of playing for the state championship.”