By JUSTIN RAINS
The Palestine football team knew it could make a statement with a big victory over defending state champion Chapel Hill Friday here at Wildcat Stadium.
The Wildcats ended up making a statement, but it wasn't the one they wanted to.
Palestine turned the ball over four times, and Chapel Hill scored 21 points in the third quarter to run away with a 34-14 victory.
After a close but sloppy first half, Chapel Hill opened up the second half with a bang.
After a solid kick-off return, Bulldog quarter Andrew Black faked a handoff, freezing the entire Palestine defense, and found a wide open Corey Starks for a touchdown pass that put the Bulldogs up 20-7.
It appeared, however, that Palestine was ready to storm back and answer the Chapel Hill score.
The Wildcats took over at the Chapel Hill 48, thanks to two personal foul penalties on Chapel Hill on the kick-off, and slowly marched through Bulldog territory.
At the 12-yard line, Palestine quarterback Gee Clark handed off to Darrius Stephens, who broke through a hole and appeared to be headed for a touchdown. But, a Chapel Hill defender hit Stephens at the half-yard line, causing the ball to pop free.
The Bulldogs recovered in the end zone, but couldn't get any yardage on the Palestine defense, and were forced to punt.
But, that also proved disastrous for the Wildcats. The Wildcat returner muffed the punt, and for the second time in the game the Bulldogs recovered a punt that Palestine couldn't handle.
From there, Chapel Hill drove 42 yards for a touchdown on a drive capped by a one-yard run from Joseph Clark. It was, effectively, the end of the line on the night for Palestine.
Because of turnovers and Chapel Hill's long drives, Palestine only ran nine plays in the entire third quarter.
The Bulldogs added their final score of the night with less than minute to play in the third quarter, when Black found Sammy Guzman for a 15-yard touchdown pass.
Palestine padded its side of the scoreboard late in the fourth quarter, when Clark found Paul Barksdale on a crossing pattern for an eight-yard touchdown strike, but it was too little, too late.
Chapel Hill (1-3), a team that had struggled on offense in its first three games, came out of the gate hot Friday, scoring on its first scoring drive of the evening, less than four minutes into the game.
After a 27-yard run from Jamarcus McCowin to get the Bulldogs to midfield, Black found Gabriel Robinson on a screen pass that Robinson took 50 yards for a touchdown. Palestine managed to block the extra point, but Chapel Hill led 6-0.
Palestine answered right away, thanks in large part to Barksdale, who returned the ensuing kick-off 74 yards down to the Chapel Hill 21. Less than two minutes later, Ben Luckett rumbled in from eight yards out, and after a Lucas Valencia extra point the Wildcats led 7-6.
From there things got slow and sloppy, as neither team was able to get much offensive traction. That all changed when Chapel Hill got tricky.
With just over three minutes to play in the half, the Bulldogs called a wide receiver reverse-pass, with a running back pitching the ball to Robinson, who evaded a Palestine defender and found Starks in the endzone from 33 yards out, giving the Bulldogs the 13-7 halftime lead.
Black finished the game 7-of-15 for 157 yards and three touchdowns, while Clark ran for a game-high 91 yards on 15 carries.
Palestine managed to run for 200 yards in the game, led by Stephens' 57-yard night. Barksdale added 52 yards on three second half carries, while Clark ran for 49.
But, the Palestine passing game was stagnant all game. Clark finished 6-of-20 throwing the ball, gaining only 32 yards in the process.