MAGNA — Falling behind in football games is never a situation coaches crave.
But with his team trailing 14-7 at halftime on the road at Cyprus High, West head coach Justin Thompson issued a challenge to the Panthers, and they couldn’t have responded better.
“They came out and played like themselves,” he said of West’s come-from-behind 33-21 win Friday night. “We came out (at the beginning of the game), and it was hard. It was hard because that’s a pretty good team. Like that’s a solid football team with a really nice defense and a big, powerful couple of running backs.”
Those running backs had their way with West in the first quarter, scoring two touchdowns before West found the end zone.
West answered as time expired in the first quarter as senior John Abercrombie ran 70 yards for the Panthers only first-half points. Normally a wide receiver, Abercrombie was forced to play running back when the Panthers lost their normal starter in the second quarter of last week’s win.
“He had to go out there and play a position he normally doesn’t,” Thompson said, adding they thought they’d get Faysal Mursal back until Thursday night. “He literally had to learn a new position with no practice. …So that was just a gutsy, gutsy performance there.”
Abercrombie scored twice, the second touchdown coming with 6:04 left in the game on a one-yard run. That score came after an interception by sophomore Treyson Johnson that put the contest out of reach for the Pirates with a 33-21 lead.
But the Panthers didn’t lead until midway through the fourth quarter.
West scored when quarterback Romeo Johnston and Bryndon Johnson connected on a 14-yard pass play, but the PAT failed and Cyprus retained a 14-13 lead.
The fourth quarter, however, was all West.
Johnston connected with Viliami Makoni on a 52-yard pass play, which gave the Panthers their first lead of the game at 6:22 in the fourth quarter.
Then came Johnson’s interception and Abercrombie’s second touchdown to give West the final score of 33-21.
Johnston praised Abercrombie, who left the game late in the fourth quarter with an injury.
“(He) was amazing,” Johnston said.
Of the injuries that required players to improvise and adapt, he said that’s just football.
“We can’t be disappointed or sad about it,” he said. “We just have to play the next play.” He said the team lacked focus in the first half.
“Intensity,” he said of what made the difference in the second half. “We had a slow start. We didn’t really communicate. …In the second half, we made that a priority. That’s what won us the game.”
Thompson said the team was “spread a lot thinner” because of injuries and changes, but the team trains hard and for these difficult situations.
“It was just a little harder to get things going,” he said. “But I’ll tell you what, that’s a gutsy performance. I’m really, really proud of them. These kids have been hit and hit and hit and haven’t gotten back up in two years. So for those kids to stand back up and go back out and fight and win the game, I couldn’t be more proud of them.”