By T. Scott Boatright
Big plays and fast starts — there’s not much more satisfying for a football coach.
And that mean’s Lincoln Prep football coach Glen Hall had to be feeling pretty good after watching his team pull off both feats in both halves Thursday night en route to a 46-6 win over Delhi in the opening round of their Class 1A playoff game held at Joe Aillet Stadium on the Louisiana Tech University campus.
After taking the opening kickoff it took the Panthers only 1:22 to light up the scoreboard as quarterback Ta’Rell Simmons dropped back, was forced out of the pocket, somehow avoided multiple attempted arm tackles before hitting a hole up the middle and then angling toward the right sideline and outracing the Bears’ defense for a 67-yard scoring scamper that gave Lincoln Prep a 7-0 advantage.
Delhi managed to drive into Lincoln Prep territory on the ensuing drive before fumbling the ball away on fourth-and-two at the Panthers’ 41-yard line as Imani Payne forced the fumble before pouncing on it.
The fired up Panthers never looked back.
“It made everybody excited and influenced everyone else to go out there and start playing a little bit harder,” Hall said of Simmons’ long touchdown run to open scoring for Lincoln Prep. “When you get things like that going on, that’s what happens — people get fired up. When you have an individual like Ta’Rell, or an individual like Dmitry Payne, those guys can score from anywhere on the field. So when you give them those opportunities to make a one-step cut, they’ll score for you.”
After Marcel’s fumble recovery, it took the Panthers five plays to score again with Simmons connecting with Payne on a 19-yard scoring strike to the left back corner of the end zone that put Lincoln Prep up 15-0 at the 2:25 mark of the opening stanza after Chauncy Harper added the two-point conversion run after the TD.
The Panthers pushed that lead to 22-0 with 6:48 remaining in the first half as Emanuel Bryant powered his way three-yard to paydirt.
A successful onsides kick followed by another big play increased Lincoln Prep’s advantage to 30-0 only 23 seconds later as Simmons threw a short pass to Payne, who used his speed and strength to turn it into a 42-yard touchdown with Payne turning around and backing into the end zone with a Bear defender clinging to and pulling on the front of his jersey trying to make the stop.
“He moved well in the pocket and the line solidified their blocking by moving a little bit closer — foot to foot — and that made the defenders run around the line trying to get to the quarterback,” Hall said about the night Simmons had. “And then we kept our backs blocking off the edge and that gave Ta’Rell the kind of time he needs to make things happen.”
After halftime, Lincoln Prep’s big play prowess showed again to start the third quarter.
Delhi had won the opening toss and deferred, so the Bears received the ball to start the second half. Bryant kicked off for the Panthers and set the ball down at the Delhi five-yard line less than a foot from the sideline. The Delhi kick returner tried to pick the ball up and run with it but stepped out of bounds while doing so, pinning the Bears back at their own five.
On first down the Panthers gang-tackled the Delhi quarterback in the end zone for a safety and a 32-0 lead. Delhi kicked off after the punt and Payne did what he’s done numerous times this season on kickoffs, racing it back 60 yards for the score that pushed Lincoln Prep’s lead to 39-0 only 24 seconds into the second half.
Simmons then showed off his defensive skills as he made his second interception of the game to give possession right back to the Panthers at the 11:18 mark of the third quarter.
Lincoln Prep then mounted a 10-play, 51-yard drive that culminated with a 10-yard touchdown run by Payne to put the Panthers on top 36-0 with 3:14 left in the third quarter.
Delhi’s lone score came with a little over four minutes left and well after the Panthers had taken out most of their starters on both sides of the ball.
Simmons connected on seven-of-13 passes for 134 yards and two scores while carrying the ball nine times for another 108 yards and a touchdown along with his two interceptions.
“He had a heckuva game,” Hall said about Simmons. “He was a force for us all around. We play a lot of people on both sides of the ball, and when they all play as well on both sides as Ta’Rell did tonight, we’ll be in good shape.”
Payne finished with four catches and two touchdowns and two carries for 26 yards and another score along with his kick return TD.
Next up for the 11th-seeded Panthers (7-4) will be a road trip to face District 1-1A foe Haynesville, the No. 6 seed that has a first-round bye.
Haynesville defeated the Panthers 43-12 on Oct. 28 during regular-season action.
Photo: T. Scott Boatright
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