Laurel defensive stalwart Darius Townsend grabs Petal QB Tanner Estill. (Photo by Mark Thornton)

COUNTDOWN TO KICKOFF 2017

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Game No. 7 — Laurel at Petal 

(Editor’s note: This is the fourth of a 10-part series featuring the Top 10 area high school football games from the 2016 season. The countdown will continue in each edition of the Leader-Call up to the No. 1, game which will be revealed on Aug. 17, the start of the 2017 season.)

A regulation high school football game is 48 minutes long, but when Laurel traveled to Petal to face the Class 6A Panthers in a non-region game last September, all the Naders ended up needing was a few seconds — and the right leg of kicker Harris Hauenstein,

On the bus ride from Jones County to Petal, Hauenstein psyched himself up for the game by listening to Lil’ Wayne’s “6 foot, 7 foot.” But it was Hauenstein’s right foot that would make the difference for the Naders on the night.

The Laurel senior kicker trotted out onto the turf at Panther Stadium and drilled a 38-yard field goal with less than 30 seconds to play to lift the Naders to a 30-28 victory almost a year to the day after Hauenstein’s would-be game-winning 42-yard field goal was blocked by the Panthers to preserve a 28-27 win Between the Bricks.

“I was measuring in my head and it was do-or-die,” said Hauenstein. “My teammates have my back and I have their backs. It was time for me to do my job.”

After trading touchdowns in the first quarter and again in the second, the Panthers were driving late in the opening half when Laurel’s Jalon Thigpen picked off a pass by Petal QB Tanner Estill and raced 82 yards to the house for a Naders’ TD and a 20-14 lead at intermission.

The teams again traded TDs in the third quarter before Estill scored on a 3-yard run three minutes into the fourth quarter for a 28-27 Petal lead.

Trailing 28-27 with 5 minutes, 16 seconds to play, Laurel drove from its own 47-yard line to the Petal 10. The drive was highlighted by a dazzling 36-yard catch and run by Dontario Drummond, one of his five catches on the night.

On second down from the Petal 10, quarterback TyQuan Ulmer rolled to his right and, under pressure, lofted a pass across his body toward Drummond in the end zone. The ball was intercepted by Detric Carter, but instead of falling in the end zone, which would have given the Panthers the ball on the 20-yard line, he brought it out and was stuffed at the 2.

A near safety, followed by an incomplete pass and a 4-yard rush forced Petal into a punt.

Laurel took over at the Petal 37-yard line but was quickly moved back 10 yards on a holding call. Ulmer scrambled for 7 yards, but was hit out of bounds to give Laurel a first down at the Petal 23. Two running plays and an incomplete pass set up fourth down at the Petal 21.

On came Hauenstein, affectionally know as the “Big Ho,” who drained the winning kick from the right hashmark. It would have been good from at least 50 yards.

“He was clutch,” said Laurel head coach Todd Breland. “We noticed in pregame his leg was active tonight and we didn’t hesitate with him at the end.”

Petal had one last chance, but Thigpen intercepted Estill for the second time and time ran out on the Panthers as chants of “L-Town” rained down from the Laurel faithful.

Ulmer completed 19 of 28 passes for 322 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those went to Jevah Jones. Michael Terrell added a TD catch and Anthony Jones led all receivers with seven catches for 103 yards.

The Naders blanked Quitman, 31-0, to start the season before falling to Hattiesburg in Week 2. The Naders then beat Oak Grove before the “Big Ho’s” game-winner sent Laurel into its bye week at 3-1 with an extra week to prepare for county rival West Jones in the Region 3-5A opener.

The Naders ran roughshod over their region competition as they were a perfect 7-0 in region play and outscored their region opponents 345-111 in earning the No. 1 seed from Region 3-5A.

Laurel carried that momentum into the postseason as it knocked out Stone by 22 in the first round before exacting revenge on Hattiesburg with a 45-42 win in Round 2. The Naders won the South in Class 5A with a 45-27 come-from-behind win at Picayune.

However, the L-Town train came to a screeching halt in Starkville at the Class 5A state title game. Laurel was upended by West Point 29-8 to finish out the season at 13-2.

After the loss to Laurel dropped Petal to 2-2 on the year, the Panthers went 5-2 in Region 3-6A and earned the No. 4 seed out of their region.

The Panthers downed D’Iberville in the first round of the playoffs before shocking Brandon, and most of the state, with a 14-10 win over the Bulldogs that came a little over a month after Brandon had throttled Petal 42-14.

But the clock struck midnight for the Panthers’ Cinderella run to a title as they fell to Pearl in the Class 6A South State title game, 24-3, to end the season at 9-5.