The Cleveland Panthers had more yards and fewer turnovers and penalties but the big-play offense of Tarrant proved to be the difference in a 21-20 overtime victory last Friday night at Fultondale.
The first three quarters were all defense – literally all defense as neither offense dented the scoreboard.
That changed in a hurry over the final, frantic 12 minutes.
First, Cleveland’s Juan Castro booted a 34-yard field goal with 9:37 to play to give the Panthers a 3-0 lead.
That lasted all of 20 seconds as Tarrant returned the ensuing kickoff 79 yards to take a 7-3 lead.
Cleveland came back two possessions later as Caleb Collum capped off a long drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Castro’s kick put the Panthers on top 10- 7.
The Wildcats hit on another big play with a 73-yard touchdown pass. The extra point was wide and the Tarrant lead was 13-10 with 1:23 to play.
The Panthers put together a desperation drive but stalled and Castro came on to drill a 35-yard game-tying field goal with just 17 seconds to play.
In overtime, Nick Randolph scored on a 3-yard run and Castro put the visitors up 20-13.
Tarrant went backwards on their possession but the big play came on an 18- yard touchdown pass on third down. The Wildcats then won the game on a two-point conversion run.
Cleveland put together 351 yards of offense, 273 on the ground, to Tarrant’s 313 total yards. The Wildcats managed just 84 rushing yards but completed 12 of 18 passing for 229 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Collum was the workhorse, finishing with 182 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries while completing 6 of 12 through the air for 78 yards.
Randolph had 22 carries for 95 yards and caught two passes for 26 yards.
Hunter Green led the Panther defense with nine tackles and a fumble recovery. Collum had eight tackles, including a sack, while Aaron Reno was credited with a sack.
Cleveland (5-3 overall, 3-2 in 2A Region 7) now faces a must-win game at home this week with Cold Springs (5-3, 4-1) with the winner wrapping up second place in the region and a home playoff game in the first round. A Cleveland loss could drop the Panthers into a three-way tie with Tarrant and West End for third place in the region.