Sterlington 35, West Ouachita 21
Down 21-7 midway through the third quarter, the listless Sterlington Panthers needed a splash. Layton Rainbolt, making his debut wearing the black & blue, created a title wave.
Rainbolt's 85-yard, momentum-flipping kickoff return set the tone for 28 unanswered points as the Panthers upended West Ouachita 35-21 in the season opener for both teams Friday night.
Breaking a 7-7 tie, the visiting Chiefs scored on their first two possessions of the second half to grab a two-touchdown lead with 5:46 to play in the third period.
Rainbolt, who started at Prairie View of the MAIS for current West Ouachita coach Matt Middleton as an eighth-grader, had a 60-yard punt return negated in the Bayou Jamb against Bastrop. This time, there were no flags as Rainbolt bobbled the kickoff, found the handle and accelerated through a massive crease up the middle to get the Panthers back in it.
Energized by Rainbolt's return, the defense forced the Chiefs into an empty possession.
Setting up at the 22 following the punt, the Panthers covered 78 yards on 10 plays, capped by Dallas Reagor's 7-yard run on the second play of the final quarter. Landon Green's convert evened the board at 21 with 11:34 to play.
Three plays and a punt later, Sterlington trotted its offense back onto the field at their own 49.
Malik Davis' 18-yard run on the fifth play of the drive put the Panthers back in front, 28-21, with 6:43 remaining.
Willie Holloway's interception on the second play of the Chiefs' next series turned the ball back over to the Panthers at the 9. Sterlington needed just one play to capitalize as Reagor crashed across the goal line to give the Panthers a 35-21 advantage with slightly over five minutes to play.
West Ouachita then drove from its own 36 to the Sterlington 48 before being stopped on downs.
Sterlington ran the final 3:11 off the clock to make the outcome official.
Receiving the opening kickoff, the Panthers fumbled on the fourth play from scrimmage before opening the scoring on their second series. Davis punctuated the 12-play, 58-yard excursion with a 2-yard run.
After the two sides traded punts, the Chiefs methodically marched 76 yards on 10 plays. Tobias Owens crossed over into the endzone from nine yards away, then kicked the equalizer through 7:41 before halftime.
West Ouachita quickly took charge in the second half.
Sending its offense onto the field to start the third quarter, the Chiefs proceeded to cover 71 yards on eight plays with Zaid Ashlak doing the honors from four yards away.
Sterlington was unable to move the chains on its next possession, and the Chiefs took over at the 3 on a blocked punt.
Owens made his way into the endzone three plays later, upping West Ouachita's lead to 21-7.
Things were looking bleak for the Panthers, but Rainbolt's kickoff return altered matters entirely.
Despite losing tailback C.J. Colvin with an undisclosed injury in the first quarter, the Panthers rushed for 213 yards on 34 attempts (6.3 yards per carry). Colvin suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the first quarter of last year's game against the Chiefs.
Davis (27 carries, 151 yards, 2 TDs) and Reagor (10-54-2) took up the slack in Colvin's absence.
In addition to Colvin, quarterback Hayes Crockett left the game shortly before halftime and did not return. Brody Green directed the offense the entire second half.
Returning to action Friday, the Panthers make the short trek to Ouachita Christian.