McKinley coach Robert Signater beamed when asked about his defense following the Panthers’ 22-6 win over longtime rival Friendship Capitol on Friday at Memorial Stadium, the sixth straight McKinley win in the “Downtown Showdown.”
But when the subject turned to offense, Signater’s mood changed, and the look on his face said he was addressing a sore spot.
“We’ve got to be a little more consistent,” he said. “If we want to compete, we have to be sharper than we were tonight.”
Class 5A McKinley (1-1) was sharp enough to bounce back from a season-opening 44-0 loss to Scotlandville, thanks to a defense and a few big offensive plays. But the Panthers needed all the big plays they could get from their defense to hold off the 2A Lions (0-2).
Capitol coach Johnny Duncan echoed Signater’s sentiments in a game when neither offensive front was able to pick up the consistent and relentless blitz packages the defenses brought.
It resulted in a night when the teams combined for a mere 192 yards and a plethora of negative-yard plays. Half of Capitol’s 28 rushing plays resulted in negative yards, and the Lions fumbled six times. One of the Panthers’ scores came on a safety on a bad snap on a punt.
“I thought we were prepared for this game,” Duncan said of his offense. “We studied the film. … I don’t know what it is. We have to go back to the film, start from scratch with fundamentals. The (offensive) line looked lost.”
McKinley went backward on seven plays and turned it over five times, a performance Signater hung on quarterback play. The Panthers used two quarterbacks who combined to complete just 4 of 15 passes with three interceptions.
“Quarterback play is really hurting us,” Signater said. “When the head of the snake is bad, the body is going to follow.”
Starter Euric Larvinette did provide McKinley with two of its three touchdowns, a 3-yard run for the game’s first score in the second quarter and a 48-yard touchdown bomb to Rae’Quan Powell that iced the game with 2:38 left.
But McKinley, held to 33 yards the previous week by Scotlandville, did little else on offense against Capitol, which was scrappy and aggressive.
“They are much better than they were last year,” Signater said.
But it still has a long way to go with an offense that was relegated to throwing deep passes most downs late in the game to try to exploit McKinley’s man-to-man coverage behind the blitzes.
Outside of the Lions’ one score, a 24-yard touchdown bomb from Eric Lee to Harold Wilson in the second quarter, the deep balls rarely connected. Lee and backup Demarkus Shelton combined to complete just 5 of 30 passes.
Still, Capitol’s defense allowed it to stay close, keeping a one-score game until the safety with 1:34 left in the third quarter upped the McKinley lead to 16-6.
“The defense was awesome,” Duncan said. “They have nothing to hang their heads about.”