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Panthers pounce on Mustangs

| Randy Dickson
Some of the great rivalries in sports include the New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox, Alabama-Auburn, Crestview-Niceville and, at the local middle school level, Davidson-Shoal River. The Panthers traveled across town on Thursday night to take on the Mustangs in preseason football action. And while Shoal River is coming off the 2021 Okaloosa County Championship, it was Davidson that looks to be a front runner in 2022.
Davidson’s Manwell Robinson cuts hard to avoid a Shoal River defender.

Shoal River won the opening toss and deferred allowing Davidson to receive the opening kick. Manwell Robinson made the Mustangs pay returning the kick 80 yards for a Panther touchdown. Fifteen seconds into the game Davidson had a lead it would hold the entire way en route to a 40-16 win.

“It’s always a rivalry,” Davidson coach Chris Small said. “They know each other. They around each other.

“They play with each other. It’s always a great fight.”

Small stressed the importance of the opening kick return for the touchdown.

“We had a great start,” he said. “It was a great kick return from Manwell. You always want to get on top early no matter what you are playing.”

That great start continued when Small went with an onside kick recovered by the Panthers at the Shoal River 49-yard line. Four plays later Davidson quarterback Hayden Graham connected with Ali Ingersole on a 44-yard pass play for a TD. Raymond Rentz took the all in for the 2-point conversion as Davidson led 14-0 two minutes into the game.

The Panthers showed their ability to move the ball throughout the first half with Graham spreading the football around the field in a preview of a player that could one day be leading the Bulldogs.

Graham’s favorite target was big tight end Austin Stanley.

A rain-soaked second quarter slowed the pace of the game and the ability of either team to move it as Davidson held the 14-0 lead at the half.

The football gods continued to shine on Davidson in the opening minutes of the third quarter. The Mustangs fumbled on their first play from scrimmage of the quarter.

Graham recovered the fumble. Seven plays later, with the Panthers facing a fourth down and 25 yards to go, Graham teamed up with Stanley for a 52-yard touchdown pass. Stanley shook off several would be tacklers on his march to the endzone as the Panthers moved the lead to 20-0.

Davidson’s next score came courtesy of quarterback Chasen Lawrence finding Zach Smith an 8-yard touchdown pass. Ingersole scored the 2-point conversion increasing the lead to 28-0 with a minute left in the third period.

The Mustangs finally got on the scoreboard early in the fourth quarter when quarterback Amir Reese scored on a 4-yard run. Landon Scott scored the 2-point conversion.

By that time it wasn’t a matter of if Davidson would win, but by how much.

The Panthers had a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns from Jonathan Duenas on runs of 20 and 54 yards.

Reese scored his second touchdown of the night for the Mustangs from a yard out. Malachi Akins scored on the conversion.

While happy with the win, Small wasn’t about to declare the Panthers a contender for the county championship.

“I’m not really sure what this means going into the season,” he said. “We had a lot of mistakes we have to clean up. We saw some good things.

“We just have to be able to polish some things up if  we are going to make a run at the county championship.”