Gathered near the visitors’ sideline in front of celebrating fans, the McKinley High players and coaches raised a thumb in the air Friday night after spoiling Central’s homecoming and sang their alma mater.
The Panthers pay tribute to their school after every game they play, but the tune sounds much sweeter on nights such as this.
McKinley capitalized on four Central turnovers — and two botched punt attempts — to take a convincing 34-14 win, the kind of statement the veteran Panthers hope can propel them to more memorable days ahead.
“This win was big for us for one reason, and that’s because nobody thought we could, but us,” McKinley coach Robert Signater said. “Nobody gave us a chance. But we’re trying to show that this year, we’re going to be one to be reckoned with.”
Not always dominant in this non-district road win, McKinley (3-1) was nothing if not opportunistic.
The Panthers recovered a fumble, intercepted three passes (returning one for a touchdown) and scored on a blocked punt. Their first score was set up by an errant snap on a Central punt attempt.
Meanwhile, the McKinley ground game, led by Charles Vaughn’s 13 carries for 91 yards, steadily moved the chains and ate up clock in the second half.
“A lot of credit to McKinley, but for us to be successful this season, we’ve got to play pretty near flawless football,” Central coach Sid Edwards said. “We were anything but that. We’ve certainly got to improve, but we were far from flawless. We have a lot of work to do.”
Central had a chance to take the early lead before McKinley recovered an Xavier Lewis fumble on first-and-goal from the 1 early in the second quarter.
It was a sign of things to come.
At the end of Central’s next offensive possession, an errant snap on a punt attempt led to a 28-yard loss, setting up McKinley at the CHS 13 and leading to a TD run by Nicholas Wiggins on the following play.
Then the McKinley secondary got involved.
Darrel Barber intercepted a batted pass and weaved his way 20 yards on the return, and Lil John Lewis turned the turnover into points when he took a toss to the left on fourth-and-4 from the 11 and scooted in for McKinley’s second score.
Another batted pass — this one 1:20 before halftime — went the distance, with Jaylon Johnson going 60 yards for a 21-0 lead.
“Sometimes you’ve got to make plays when you have the chance,” Johnson said. “You have to put your team in a situation to win the ball game.”
Kirk Louis added to Central’s frustrations with a short TD return of a blocked punt early in the fourth quarter.