Panthers’ work pays off
SSHS runs by Pryor in opener
Panthers 38, Tigers 21
PRYOR, Okla. — Siloam Springs thought it would have a chance for a big play early Friday in its season opener against Pryor, Okla.
The Panthers wasted no time in blowing the top off the Tigers’ defense.
Primo Agbehi hauled in a 63yard touchdown pass on Siloam Springs’ first offensive play, and the Panthers gave first-year coach Brandon Craig a victory in his SSHS debut with a 38-21 victory at Tiger Stadium.
“I was proud of them,” said Craig. “We made a lot of mistakes tonight. We’ve got a lot to work on, but their effort was there. I was excited to see that. If they just keep improving, I’m not going to set any limitations on them. They’ve just got to keep getting better each week.”
Siloam Springs rolled out to a 24-0 halftime lead and led 38-0 in the third quarter, which would have been a mercy rule running clock in Arkansas. However, Oklahoma doesn’t have a mercy rule for 11-man football and the game finished as scheduled which allowed Siloam Springs to dig deep into its bench late in the game. Pryor scored the game’s final 21 points to set the final score.
But the final score didn’t reflect the kind of dominance Siloam Springs displayed for most of the game with its starters in.
The Panthers finished with 394 yards of offense, including 255 on the ground. The Panthers gave up 364 yard defensively, but more than 250 of those yards came late in the game with the outcome already decided.
“We put in some kids that we’re getting some film on and evaluating other kids,” Craig said. “That’s part of the process. You’re going to give some points up in that situation. We weren’t happy about it by any means. But let’s give (Pryor) some credit. Their quarterback’s an outstanding player. They’ve got a couple of receivers that are really tough. I think their first 22 kids are good football players.”
In watching film on Pryor, the Panthers felt like they would have an opportunity to throw deep to Agbehi at some point in the game.
After the SSHS defense got a stop of Pryor on the opening drive and forced a punt, the offense took over at the 37-yard line.
Siloam Springs quarterback Landon Ellis took the shotgun shap and hit the speedster Agbehi on a skinny post for the touchdown.
“Yeah that’s a game plan deal,” Craig said. “We knew coming in that we had a chance to move the safety over to the two-receiver side and get Primo isolated. It was a little bit of ball where he had to go get it, but he did a great job of turning it on and going after it.”
Agbehi knew the play was in the works.
“All week coach has been pressuring me,” he said. “We’ve been working on it non stop. He’s been pressuring me, putting some hard work on me, making different people guard me. I’ve been hyped. I’ve been ready. I’ve been preparing for it mentally and physically.”
Up 7-0, Siloam Springs then turned to its defense to make some stops.
Pryor quarterback Trapper Gilstrap connected on passes of 21 and 26 yards to Joey Wallen and Garrett Mitchell and moved the ball to the 10-yard line. But on fourth and one a bad snap led to a turnover on downs.
Penalties sunk Siloam Springs on its next two offensive possesions which led to punts. A strong punt return gave Pryor great field position, but the Panthers got another turnover on downs to keep the 7-0 lead.
Siloam Springs moved the ball to the Pryor 1-yard line on its next possession, but a fumbled snap from the Panthers led to SSHS kicking a 24-yard field goal by Christian Marroquin to go up 10-0.
Kaiden Thrailkill recovered a fumble for the Panthers on their next defensive possession and two plays later Thrailkill scored from 14 yards out for a 17-0 lead.
“It was definitely tough. I was definitely gassed,” Thrailkill said. “I mean after I scored that touchdown I came off to the sideline and threw up. But it was worth it. Every second of it was worth it.”
After the Panthers forced a Pryor punt, Thrailkill went back to work on offense. He ran for 40 yards, zigzagging through the Tigers’ defense to the 13. Thrailkill then ran the next 13 yards for the touchdown and a 24-0 lead with 1:58 before halftime.
“That was our first team goal — win game one,” said Thrailkill, who rushed 18 times for 123 yards and three touchdowns. “Before the season even started, throughout the summer, we were grinding. We knew we had to win game one to get this momentum going because we came off last season with not very many wins, and that was hard on everybody. This is definitely what we needed.”
Siloam Springs used a pair of turnovers to spark its touchdowns in the third quarter.
With Pryor driving inside the red zone, Gilstrap was intercepted by Agbehi, who ran it back to the Pryor 7 before Gilstrap made a touchdown saving tackle.
Thrailkill then scored on fourth-and-goal at the 1 to give the Panthers a 31-0 lead.
On the next offensive Pryor offensive possession, linebacker Chase Chandler tipped a Gilstrap pass and Spenser Pippin intercepted it for another turnover.
“We just stayed sound in our technique, working on it all week,” Chandler said. “It was pretty sloppy, but we got there. We got ball pressure on the QB. DBs were covering up back behind us. Linebackers filled their holes all around. It was nice all around. We stopped the run, forced them to pass and they couldn’t complete it on us.”
Ellis hit Ransom Van Asche for nine yards to the 9-yard line, and backup quarterback Taylor Pool ran the final distance for the touchdown and a 38-0 lead with 2:43 remaining in the third.
Pryor scored on the final play of the third quarter on a 1-yard run by Gilstrap. He ran for another touchdown and threw for a score to Mitchell in the fourth quarter.
Gilstrap rushed for 60 yards and completed 29 of 42 passes for 297 yards. Mitchell caught 11 passes for 113 yards, while Joey Wallen had nine receptions for 101 yards for Pryor.
Thrailkill’s rushing effort led the Panthers, who had six different players carry the ball. Gustavo Fuentes rushed 13 times for 56 yards, while Pool had five carries for 35 yards and sophomore Cam Collins four carries for 27 yards.
“If you go to the film you’ll see that the offensive line started to gel a little bit,” Craig said. “They got after it. They moved some people around, got physical. Again that’s got to be our M.O. We’ve got to get more and more physical each week and just keep pushing to be better and better.”
Ellis completed 7 of 12 passes for 139 yards, spread around to six different receivers.
On special teams, the Panthers unveiled a weapon in senior Christian Marroquin, who had seven touchbacks on all seven of his kickoff attempts. Marroquin also attempted a 51-yard field goal late in the game which came up just short.
“Everybody talks about going and getting kids out of the hallway, and he’s one of the kids we got out of the hallway,” Craig said of Marroquin. “He’s made a huge difference for our program — tremendous weapon. … He’s a competitor. You know he’s got that state championship soccer background and he wants to win.”
Siloam Springs junior upends Pryor (Okla.) quarterback Trapper Gilstrap during the Panthers’ 38-21 win Friday over the Tigers in Pryor.