Lorenzo Smothers scored two touchdowns and the Wildcats secondary intercepted Johnathon McCrary twice in the last minute to put away the Clark Atlanta Panthers 41-24 at Panthers Field on Saturday.
Clark Atlanta mounted an 11-play, 77-yard drive five minutes before the end of the first quarter to post the first points on the scoreboard. McCrary completed 3 of 5 passes for 54 yards to move the Panthers into the red zone. Running back Roger Thomas followed his left tackle the final 8 yards for the 7-0 lead.
The Wildcats responded with a 5-play quick strike on the ensuing drive. Slade Jarman threw a 62-yard strike to Jeremy Glinton deep in Panthers territory. Chauncey Jackson evened the score with a matching 8-yard touchdown run three minutes into the second quarter.
After both offenses traded field goals, Fort Valley took the lead for good two minutes before the half. Jackson added a large chuck of his 131 rushing yards on the drive with a 41-yard romp. Defensive back Julian Colvard trailed the play and made a touchdown-saving tackle at the Panthers’ 10. The tackle prolonged the inevitable. On the very next play, Smothers took the inside hand-off around the left end for the touchdown.
Fort Valley dominated the third quarter on both sides of the ball. Smothers returned a 48-yard punt 86 yards for a touchdown. “I just knew my team needed me to make a play,” said Smothers. It was the second time in as many weeks the Wildcats freshman had a return for a touchdown. “We feel like we’ve been one block away on the kick-off return and we spend a bunch of time on it each week,” said Head Coach Kevin Porter. “It’s always good when you score in the kicking game.”
Smothers’ special teams’ score ignited the offense. Jackson gashed the Panthers’ defense 23 yards on three consecutive carries to move the chains across midfield. Fort Valley kept Clark Atlanta’s defense off-balance mixing in 33 passing yards and 41 rushing yards. Slade capped the drive with a 12-yard strike to Tajee Steele in the back of the end zone.
The Panthers narrowed the gap to one score with two touchdowns early in the fourth quarter. McCrary threw a 14-yard strike to Deandre Jackson to cap a 9-play, 76-yard drive that started in the third quarter.
A fumble by Jackson gave the ball back to the Panthers 47 seconds later. Linebacker Terrence Kelley scooped up the loose ball and returned it to the Clark Atlanta 4-yard line. Two plays later R Morris was standing in the end zone holding a touchdown pass from McCrary.
A 22-yard field goal from pre-season All-Conference first-team kicker Juan Serna made it a two-score game with less than 2 minutes to play.
There would be no comeback as the Wildcats defense shut the door with two interceptions. “McCrary is a good football player now,” said Coach Porter. “We threw a bunch of blitzes at him to see if we could get him out of his comfort zone and towards the end it was desperation for those guys so they had to force some plays and fortunately we made some.
Nicco Whigham made the first play for the Wildcats picking off McCrary along the side Clark Atlanta sideline and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown. “I knew they were gonna come right back to it, so at the beginning of the play I told my safety go deep I was going to sit on the route,” said Whigham.
Safety Cameron Young extinguished the final light by intercepting a deep pass that went through the hands of sophomore wide receiver Trey Wilson. Young returned the pick 84 yards but a penalty nullified most of the return.
Fort Valley moves to 2-0 (2-3 overall) in the SIAC East Division and a tie with Albany State. Clark Atlanta falls to 1-1 (3-3 overall).
Fort Valley State
DL Demetrius Harris 9 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 3 pass breakups
CB Nicco Whigham 7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 1 TD
LB Harding Harper 13 tackles, 2 tackles for loss
DB Jaquatin Victrum 8 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble
All Photos by Jason McDonald, CORE360 Sports