Collinsville’s Kaleb Jones intercepted a pass and returned it 26 yards for a score with 2:45 left to extend the Panthers’ lead and help them hold on to beat the North Sand Mountain Bison 37-28 in the quarterfinal round of the Class 2A state playoffs in Collinsville on Friday night.
“(Landon) Green didn't throw a bad pass all night, but Kaleb stepped in front of that one and gave us a pick-six when we really needed it,” Panthers coach Ernie Willingham said.
Michael Tucker rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns for the Panthers (12-1).
“When we lost in the playoffs at Aliceville last year, I thought we had a little too much emotion,” Willingham said. “This year we are concentrating on playing hard and taking care of business. That means we get to practice again on Monday.”
Collinsville advanced to the semifinal round for the first time since 1983, before the playoff system changed to five rounds, according to the Alabama High School Football Historians Association.
The Panthers visit Region 8 rival Fyffe at 7 p.m. Friday, with the winner advancing to the state championship game in Auburn.
In order to advance, the Panthers had to deal with Region 8 rival NSM (9-4), who made things tough.
Willingham said in an attempt to keep the ball out of NSM quarterback Green’s hands, Collinsville tried to chew up as much time as possible with its run game.
“(Green) is so dynamic,” he said.
Green threw for 190 yards and four touchdowns for the Bison.
Tucker returned a kickoff for 47 yards to set up a 31-yard game-tying scoring drive early in the second quarter.
“He has so much heart when he is playing,” Willingham said.
Collinsville’s Jason Perez drilled a 39-yard field goal with 19 seconds remaining in the first half to give the Panthers a 24-21 halftime advantage.
Jones capped a Collinsville drive with a 1-yard TD run with 6:42 left in the third, but the ensuing 2-point conversion run failed, giving the Panthers a 30-21 lead.
Green hit Jayden Culpepper for a 17-yard scoring connection with 5:13 left to play in the fourth to slice the deficit to 30-28, before Jones’ interception.
Bryan Lopez recovered a fumble to set up a 26-yard scoring drive to give Collinsville its first lead at 21-14.
The Panthers finished the game turnover-free.
“I am so proud of our guys. They played so hard,” Willingham said. “We have 12 seniors, and our offensive line has been starting for 4 years. I thought they gave us some stability tonight.”