Choctaw County sees season end

Staff Writer

With many teary eyes and disappointment evident on faces, the Choctaw County football team gathered at midfield following its Class 3A, third-round playoff game against North Panola on Friday night.

The Chargers had just lost a 28-14 decision, putting an end to a spectacular season. For many, Choctaw County had exceeded expectations. For the Chargers, seeing their season end was still incredibly tough to take.
“We came to win and expected to win this football game,” Choctaw County first-year head coach Ben Ashley said. “We felt like we had the better football team.”

At least on this night, North Panola proved to be the superior squad. On the back of the athletic Sylvonta Oliver, who scored three total touchdowns, as well as a smothering defensive line, the Cougars (13-0) got past the Chargers (10-3) and advanced to next week’s Class 3A North State title game. Choctaw County was left to ponder what might have been.

“If you take away three huge mistakes – one in the kicking game, an interception early and a pick-six – it’s probably a 7-7 football game and we’re playing overtime,” Ashley said. “That’s a tribute to (North Panola) though. Their guys made the plays and we didn’t. They have a good team and we wish them luck.”

Making the night even tougher for Choctaw County was the fact the Chargers briefly earned a lead in the second quarter. The crowd at Dale Davidson Field was rocking like it did many times over the 1990s and 2000s when the then-Ackerman Indians were making yearly runs deep into the playoffs.

Though Oliver had given North Panola a 6-0 lead with a 15-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, Choctaw County quarterback Austin Telano’s 2-yard scoring rush midway through the second quarter sparked the Chargers to a 7-6 advantage. For a moment, the magical 2017 Choctaw County football season looked like it was destined to keep right on rolling. North Panola put all those thoughts to bed in a hurry.

On the ensuing kickoff after Telano’s touchdown, Oliver struck again. He caught the kickoff at his own 25-yard line and returned it 75 yards for the score. Just like that, the Chargers were right back behind. Choctaw County’s lead lasted all of 16 seconds.

“It was a backbreaker,” Ashley said of Oliver’s kickoff return touchdown. “It was an absolute backbreaker.”

To the Chargers’ credit, they didn’t back down. Even after Oliver put North Panola up 22-7 with a 5-yard touchdown run just prior to halftime, Choctaw County came out swinging in the second half.

“Our kids didn’t panic,” Ashley said. “We challenged them to play 24 more minutes and they came out and played 24 more minutes. They showed their heart and soul. Our kids have bought in. That’s what they’re going to do.”

Following a scoreless third quarter, North Panola’s Quardarius Jones intercepted a Telano pass and returned it for a 40-yard touchdown with just over 4 minutes left to play. Suddenly the Cougars were ahead 28-7. Not even then would Choctaw County fold.

Only 17 seconds later, the Chargers were in the end zone. Telano hit Brice Utley for a 21-yard touchdown pass. Choctaw County then recovered the ensuing onside kick. However that’s about where the Chargers’ fortunes ran out as Choctaw County lost a fumble on its possession. It was a tough end to what was an incredible year of football in Choctaw County.

After the game, as the team gathered at midfield, Ashley praised his senior class for setting the tone for the Chargers all year long. He told them they were the ones that helped put football in Choctaw County back on the map. The only bad news was their careers were over.

Yet Ashley believes the best is yet to come for the Chargers. Ashley found plenty of success in Choctaw County in year one. If he has his way, Friday night won’t be the last time there is a really important November football game played in Ackerman.

“All we’re going to do from here is grow and expand and get better,” Ashley said. “I just wish I could practice football Monday.”