by Kyle Parmley
BIRMINGHAM — He started right, staring down a host of green jerseys, then cut back left, where nothing but green grass lay between him and the end zone.
Homewood High School running back Nick McCoy’s 21-yard touchdown run broke the tie with 29 seconds to play, leading the Patriots to a 29-22 win over Pelham in the second annual Milo’s Breakfast Kickoff Classic on Thursday night at Samford University’s Seibert Stadium.
“I just ran,” McCoy said. “I bounced it outside and (wide receiver) C.D. (Daniels) put his man on the ground and I knew it was a touchdown. I busted it open and I did what I was supposed to do.”
The big run punctuated a critical 14-play, 85-yard drive when it mattered the most. With 4:41 to play on the clock in a tie game, the Patriots took over at their own 15-yard line and went to work.
Larkin Williams’ pass to his favorite target, TyShawn Buckner – who finished with five catches, 90 yards and a pair of touchdowns – went for 10 yards and a first down. On a third-and-2, David Robertson burst up the middle for a 3-yard gain. Williams completed a 13-yard pass to Robertson for another first down.
Five plays later, Williams scrambled for 12 yards when he needed 11, setting the table for McCoy.
“Yeah, that was huge,” Homewood head coach Ben Berguson said of the final drive. “We were wearing on them. We got to where we could run the ball really well on them in the second half.”
With time running out, the Patriot defense left Pelham no room for hope, and John Andrew Dill’s emphatic sack on the final play of the game sent Homewood fans home with a smile.
The 1-2 punch of McCoy and Robertson provided great dividends in the fourth quarter, as fresh legs prevailed. McCoy wrapped up his evening with 87 yards on 19 carries, with Robertson picking up 89 yards on 13 rushes.
“It’s fabulous,” McCoy said. “He can get in when I’m tired. When he’s tired, I can get in.”
Williams finished 12-of-29 through the air, for 146 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The offense as a whole got off to a slow start, but Berguson credited that largely to it being the first game of the season.
Berguson said, “I hope so. They say you make your biggest gains between the first game and the second game, so hopefully we got some of that out of us.”
While the offense got its bearings, the Homewood defense was virtually lights out in the first half.
“They played well. We’ve got eight starters returning on defense. They carried us. It took us awhile to get going offensively, but Pelham wore us down some in the second half,” Berguson said.
Homewood looked as if it would win convincingly after taking a 15-0 lead in the second quarter. Kris Wilkins scooped up a fumble late in the first quarter and took it 40 yards for the score to give the Patriots the 7-0 edge. They tacked on two more points on the first play of Pelham’s ensuing drive, as Trent Owens hurled down Pelham’s Dylan Peterson in the end zone for a safety.
Williams hit Buckner on a slip screen on the next Patriot drive, and Buckner streaked down the sideline for a 35-yard touchdown to make it 15-0.
A muffed punt led to the Panthers’ first touchdown, a 2-yard run by Brandon Sledge, to cut the deficit to 15-7.
Buckner’s second touchdown grab of the night, a 15-yard strike from Williams, gave Homewood a 22-7 lead early in the third quarter after John Firnberg’s fumble recovery on the first play of the second half.
But Pelham refused to go away, scoring late in the third on Nicolas Blackburn’s 8-yard run to make it 22-15. The Panthers then successfully recovered an onside kick and punched it in again on Sledge’s second score to tie the game at 22-22 with 9:40 to play.
“We made enough mistakes for three ball games but we survived,” Berguson said. “Pelham did a heck of a job down the stretch. It was a good football game.”
Now, Homewood looks ahead to rival Vestavia Hills, who the Patriots have not defeated in 10 tries. Pelham hosts Mortimer Jordan in an intriguing cross-classification matchup.