PRINCETON — The Melissa Cardinals rallied from a 14-point first-half deficit to blitz Princeton, 48-35, on Friday in non-district action at Panther Stadium.
After trailing, 22-8, in the second quarter, Melissa (4-1) cut the lead to seven before half-time on an 18-yard run by Ja'Bray Young then exploded for 26 straight points to take control.
“We went into the locker room and made a couple of adjustments but, really, we didn't do a whole lot,” Melissa head coach Seth Stinton said. “We didn't go in there and draw up any magic plays or any magic defense or any of that stuff. I think our kids just responded well.”
Sophomore quarterback Brendon Lewis threw for 285 yards and four touchdowns and he ran for another while Tate Whittington led with five catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Kennedy Lewis grabbed five passes for 131 yards and a touchdown — a 40-yard highlight-reel catch in the end zone.
Whittington also had an interception, tallied 10 tackles, broke up three passes and recovered a fumble.
The Cardinals nabbed five turnovers, with two of crucial importance in the first half. The first came after Princeton (1-4) had taken the opening kickoff and marched 58 yards to Melissa's 10-yard-line. Defensive lineman Jacob Blackwell stripped the ball and Whittington pounced on it at the Melissa 8. Five plays later — including a 77-yard Whittington catch — Brendon Lewis scored the contest's first points from two yards out.
Later, with Princeton up, 22-15, less than 30 seconds before half-time, another Panther threat ended when linebacker Payton Wallace leaned in and picked off Strickland's pass at the goal line.
“That's huge,” Stinton said. “We had the right kind of pressure at the right time. And our guys were in position to make plays.”
In the decisive third quarter, Melissa first drove 77 yards in 14 plays for a touchdown, an 8-yard pass to Whittington. The Cardinals' next possession was capped by a 22-yard TD toss to Whittington, who reached back for the ball then split the defense's seam down the middle. After Kennedy Lewis' touchdown put Melissa up, 34-22, Jason Baker scampered 31 yards to boost the Cardinals' lead to 41-22.
Sophomore Jalaydon Hill led Princeton rushers with 77 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries. Starting running back Jacob Purdon left the game in the second quarter with what appeared to be a left knee injury. Princeton quarterback Brendon Strickland threw for 308 yards but was picked off four times.
Not helping Princeton's cause were 18 penalties for 156 yards.
After a bye next week, both teams begin district play on Friday, Oct. 6. Prior to last year's bye, Princeton topped Melissa, 35-12.
“Going into this bye is a little different from last year,” Stinton said. “Same record, but we're going in winning. This is a good feeling and I'm super-proud of our kids.”