The Palestine Wildcats treated fans to a 28-7 victory over the Livingston Lions in the home opener at Wildcat Stadium on Friday.
The annual Highway 79 Rivalry game with Jacksonville was scrapped due to the COVID restrictions that required 5A schools to start their season later this year, and this replacement game was scheduled.
Palestine took the field looking to recover from last week's 33-3 loss to Van, and they were able to do so with a strong defensive showing and by eliminating turnovers.
Friday's contest was a defensive battle early as the combatants spent the first quarter and much of the second probing for the other team's weaknesses. Palestine junior De'Myzjean Martin and senior Tawalan Cook traded series at the quarterback position, but a tough Lion defense all-too-often held Palestine to three-and-out. Punter Luke James did his job and kept Livingston in bad field position, on two occasions pinning the Lions at the 2-yard-line.
Palestine's defense proved equally stingy, pursuing to the ball with speed and ferocity. Junior Jermeny Walker picked off a Livington pass to stop a Lions' drive late in the first quarter.
Late in the first half, with Martin under center, Palestine seemed to find their rhythm. Getting the ball at midfield, a handoff to Jakayron Conley was good for 11 yards.
Kemon Ross picked up another first down on the following play. Taking the next handoff at the 29-yard-line, Conley charged up the middle and, although hit twice, managed to keep his feet to reach the end zone.
Senior Tres McCloud and Ross both recorded sacks during the Lion's next possession, and the Wildcats got the ball back on the Lion's 23-yard-line with four ticks left on the clock.
It was enough, as Martin laid a perfect fade pass to Shoveior Clewis for the Wildcats' second touchdown. James' second PAT sent Palestine to the locker room up 14-0.
Early in the third, LHS speedster Chris Washington was headed for pay dirt, but PHS sophomore Benjamin Clerkley made a touchdown-saving open-field tackle that would spark the defense. Derlundrick Jackson and Elvin Calhoun teamed up for a sack that would finish the Lions' drive.
Penalties on Livingston contributed to the Wildcats getting good field position late in the third, and Martin marshalled the offense to score their third TD on a 3rd-and-8 delayed draw that went 54 yards, with Walker carrying a defender into the end zone.
Livingston got on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter with a 79-yard drive that ended with a one-yard quarterback sneak.
LHS tried an on-side kick which was controlled by Palestine, then two penalties on the Lions set Palestine up at the Lion's 40-yard-line. With Cook at quarterback, Shedrick Dudley and Conley contributed to a drive that ended in a 16-yard touchdown on a jet sweep by Conley. James nailed his fourth PAT.
The rain picked up late in the game and a wet ball contributed to Livingston's quarterback and receivers having trouble connecting as the Lions went to the air exclusively in their final possession, with little success. Defensive pressure by D'Maurius Session, Walker and Chris Bryant ensured the stop and gave Palestine's offense the ball for the final minute.
Coach Lance Angel offered his take on the game. "It's still about execution. For us it's still playing the fundamentals. Our job is to get better between now and District, and we got better tonight. The Defense played great. Offense -- we've still got some work to do. We've got to be able to control the line of scrimmage better and get first downs. But we made enough plays to make a difference. I'm very proud of the defense and there were some good plays from special teams too."
Livingston falls to 0-2. Palestine, 1-1, hosts Rusk next Friday.