By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director
COLLINSVILLE – Just call the Collinsville Panthers the wrecking crew.
The Panthers have “wrecked” three homecomings, two senior nights, and now one undefeated season following their 27-22 victory over previously unbeaten Valley Head on Friday night.
Eighth grade quarterback Mason McAteer completed 5-of-8 pass attempts for 215 yards and three touchdowns to three different receivers. Senior all-purpose player Keaton DeBoard delivered 88 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown. He also caught a pair of passes for 94 yards, including a 76-yard touchdown just before halftime to give Collinsville a 20-8 halftime advantage.
“The touchdown before the half was really, really outstanding,” Collinsville coach Ernie Willingham said. “He (McAteer) had some heat. He slid up a couple of steps in the pocket a little closer and held it and held it until Keaton could clear. He took a pretty good shot, but he held it to the last second. That was a big-league play for a young guy.”
“We started passing on them and that worked out pretty good, so we kept passing it and got a lead on them at the half,” McAteer said. “We first had to start the running to get them on that (score before halftime). The pocket closed up and I stepped in and threw it. I got hit pretty hard. I knew he caught it, but I didn’t know it was a touchdown.”
DeBoard, who is the older cousin of McAteer, said the Panthers’ young quarterback has “great poise to be such a young guy.”
“He’s real mature. He’s real cool-headed. You just can’t teach that,” DeBoard said. “We grew up playing in the back yard together throwing the football, so it’s good to do it out here in front of the lights.”
DeBoard got the Panthers (8-2) going on their first drive of the game. On a fourth-and-1 near midfield, DeBoard faked a punt and got three yards to extend the opening drive. Two plays later, he scored from 41 yards out. Luis Ailon’s extra point made it 7-0 Collinsville with 8:54 remaining in the opening quarter.
Valley Head (9-1) established the running of quarterback Eian Bain and Hunter Robinson on its first drive. However, the drive stalled at the Panther 23 on a fourth-down play, turning the ball back over.
Collinsville capitalized just one play later on McAteer’s 77-yard scoring strike to Gavin Lang. The extra point was no good, keeping the Panther lead at 13-0.
The Tigers continued to grind it out on the ground on their ensuing drive. A 20-play, 81-yard drive ate up almost the entire second quarter, which was capped with Robinson’s 2-yard touchdown run. Bain ran in for the 2-point conversion to make it a 13-8 score with 1:10 remaining in the first half.
That was just enough time for McAteer to find DeBoard for a 76-yard touchdown to extend Collinsville’s lead to 20-8 at the break.
In a game in which possessions were at a premium, the Panther defense got another fourth-down stop to open the third quarter. However, a DeBoard fumble gave Valley Head the ball back at its own 38-yard line. Bain cashed in the turnover with his 62-yard scoring run just one play later. Robinson rushed in for the 2-point try, trimming Collinsville’s lead to 20-16 with 6:30 left in the third quarter.
Bain led Valley Head with 159 yards on 30 carries with a touchdown. Robinson carried the ball 22 times for 106 yards and two scores.
With momentum shifted to the Tigers, the Panthers battled back.
McAteer connected with Fernando Padilla on a 32-yard scoring strike. Following Ailon’s extra point, Collinsville once again held a two-score advantage at 27-16 with 4:40 to go in the third.
The Panther ‘D’ delivered again in the fourth quarter. A Valley Head drive reached the 3-yard line, but Collinsville denied Bain the end zone on another fourth-down play, tackling him for a 1-yard loss with 7:11 remaining in the game.
The Panther offense went three-and-out on its next series, but Collinsville caught a break when a Bain pass was intercepted by Kyler Beene.
Six consecutive DeBoard runs milked the clock down to two minutes, but the Tigers weren’t ready to be tamed just yet. Bain connected with Ethan Webb on a 36-yard pass play, then Bain ran for 26 more yards down to the Panther 1. Robinson took it in from there, but Bain fumbled on the ensuing 2-point try with 38.3 seconds remaining.
The Tigers tried an onside kick, but it was recovered by the Panthers. Three McAteer kneel downs ended Valley Head’s hopes for an undefeated season.
“That was motivation for us too,” Willingham said. “We weren’t very good last year. People kind of underestimated us a little bit on how much we have improved. Our young guys have come on and our old guys have too. They didn’t have much experience last year. We’ve really come on and played really well at the end.”
“It’s a great way to go into the playoffs,” McAteer said.
The Panthers open postseason play next Friday at Falkville. Valley Head will host Phillips of Bear Creek.