Trey Flowers wasn’t concerned about anything but moving in the right direction every time he touched the ball Friday afternoon.
After the junior running back carried it 32 times for 259 yards and scored three touchdowns, Flowers had helped Palmetto’s football program take a big step forward with a 34-28 comeback win over host Belen Jesuit in a Region 4-8A quarterfinal.
Flowers’ 7-yard touchdown run with 1:49 remaining in the fourth quarter capped a run of 15 unanswered points that secured the Panthers’ first postseason victory since 2008.
“Blood, sweat and tears is what it took,” Flowers said. “We put everything in to this game, and my offensive line just made every play we needed. This was my first time in a playoff game and to run for a career-high, wow.”
Palmetto (9-1) advanced to the regional semifinals and secured a rematch with district rival Southridge that will be played on the Spartans’ home field on Friday at 7:30 p.m. The Panthers’ only loss this season was to Southridge.
“Year Three was the goal for us,” Palmetto coach Mike Manasco said. “If we couldn’t win a district title, then let’s make the playoffs, let’s win a playoff game and keep moving in the right direction.”
Belen (7-4), which hosted a first-round playoff game for the third consecutive season, had one final chance following Flowers’ go-ahead score.
But its hopes were dashed on a fourth-down play near midfield when Gabriel Estrada caught a pass from Lucas Pola was ruled to have gone out of bounds short of the first-down marker.
Belen Jesuit was forced to throw on its final drive with time running out after it had spent nearly the entire game racking up yards via its Wing-T running game. The Wolverines ran for 296 yards overall, led by Don Chaney, Jr.’s 88 yards on 10 carries. Estrada ran for 61 yards and scored three touchdowns.
“Their offense is a machine and our defense kept bending and bending,” Manasco said. “We finally stood tough in the fourth quarter. I’m really proud of our kids coming up with two big scores when we needed it most.”
Chaney went down late in the third quarter with what appeared to be a left leg injury and did not return.
Belen still managed to make it a two-score game when Estrada scored from 2 yards out to give the Wolverines a 28-19 lead.
After forcing a fourth down, Palmetto attempted a fake punt and was stopped at its own 29-yard line. But Belen failed to add to its lead moments later when kicker Javan Rice hooked a 39-yard field goal attempt wide right.
Palmetto answered with a touchdown drive capped by a 23-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Hugh Lowson to Joe Hardy.
Lowson completed 11 of 15 passes for 114 yards and threw a 37-yard touchdown pass earlier in the game to Ivan Thomas, who also caught a two-point conversion pass following Flowers’ go-ahead score. On the play, Thomas made a leap over two defenders and caught the ball off a deflection in the end zone.
“The kids are playing better and tougher as the season has gone on, and I’m just excited about the direction our program is headed,” Manasco said.