The Cleveland Panthers dug an early hole, came back, and then couldn’t hang on in a 35-28 loss at Gaston Friday night.
With second place in the region on the line, the Bulldogs took advantage of Cleveland turnovers and buried the Panthers with 21 straight points to start the game.
Cleveland finally got on the board in the second quarter when Peyton Gilliland scored on a 13-yard run but the Gaston lead was 21-6 at the half.
The Panthers cut the lead to 21-14 midway through the third quarter when Gilliland scored from 8 yards out and followed with a two-point conversion toss to John Michael Lauderdale.
However, the Gaston came right back with a 59-yard run to go up 27-14.
Gilliland hit Lauderdale for a 32-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter. The extra point was missed but the Gaston lead was just 27-20 with 2:38 to play in the third.
The Panther defense made a stop and the offense roared back down the field. Gilliland hit Eric Faulkner in stride for a 34-yard touchdown and the duo hooked up again for the two-point conversion to give Cleveland the lead (28-27) for the first time on the night.
Unfortunately, the Bulldogs found their running game. On a drive that ate up more than eight minutes of the fourthquarter clock, Gaston’s Mitchell Smith got the touchdown on a 1-yard run with just 24 seconds left to play. The Bulldogs also got the two-point conversion to lead, 28- 27.
Cleveland’s managed a desperation heave to the end zone but it was picked off to end the game.
Mitchell led the Bulldogs with 18 carries for 147 yards and four touchdowns.
Cleveland put together plenty of offense – 385 total yards – but the Panthers turned the ball over five times and gave up 300 rushing yards to the Bulldogs.
Gilliland 6 of 13 passing for 113 yards and two touchdowns but was picked off twice. He also rushed 23 times for 197 yards and two touchdowns.
Brett Erwin had 14 carries for 69 yards.
Faulkner caught four passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns while Lauderdale had two receptions for 39 yards and a score.
Hunter Green was all over the field for the Panther defense and finished with 23 tackles. Leo Calderon had 14 tackles. Bryan Cornelius had a sack.
Cleveland (7-2) hosts Southeastern (2- 7) to close the regular season tomorrow ( Thursday) night.