The Mississippi Panthers Defeated the Denver Bandits 28-19 at Halftime Help Stadium in Denver
By Russ Crawford
The Women’s National Football Conference Week 5 Marquee Matchup featured the Mississippi Panthers versus the Denver Bandits. Both teams came into the match with 2-1 records. Denver lost their first game 0-10 against the Houston Mambas, then, after a by-week, they defeated the Seattle Majestics 12-0, and won 6-0 in three overtimes against the Kansas City Glory. The Panthers lost a close one to the Texas Elite Spartans 12-35 in week one, then reeled of wins versus the Washington Prodigy 14-8, and the Houston Mambas 32-20.
In what began as a clash of opposing offensive philosophies, the Bandits spent the first quarter handing the ball to running back Grace Cooper, and using Laura St. Ruth’s punting to shift field position in their favor. The plan was working well until the teams shifted sides at the end of the first quarter in a scoreless game. Disaster struck, however, when the Panther’s Regena Jackson punted from her own 34. The ball sailed to the Denver 36, where Bandits returner Breana Griggs was unable to secure the pigskin. The Panthers’ Voldavia Roberts recovered the muffed punt on the Denver 37.
Quarterback Rasan Gore hit the now-wide receiver Jackson for an 8-yard gain. On the next play, Gore looked doomed to being sacked, but she escaped, to once again find Jackson for 5 yards and a first down. After missing Rashida Young on a deep post route, Gore called her own number and ran up the middle then cut left for a 24 yard touchdown. After the 2-point conversion pass attempt from Gore to Natalie Nicks failed, the score was Mississippi 6 Denver 0 with 8:12 left in the second period.
Denver returned the ensuing kickoff to the Panthers’ 45. The Mississippi defense had made adjustments to stop the Bandits’ running attack, so the home team went to the air. Denver quarterback Casey Cubis completed a short pass to Lydia Morgan on 2nd and 17. On 3rd and 13 from the 48, Cubis hit Elissa Mcguinnis on the 37, then the receiver split the defensive backs to take the ball all the way down to the Panthers’ 1 yard line. The Panthers defense stiffened though, and pushed the Bandits back to the 17, where they turned it over on downs.
Then it was the Denver defense’s turn to step up. Bandits’ Linebacker Aspen Verdos recovered the fumble on the Panthers’ 12 yard line. Cooper took the handoff and gained 1 yard, then Cubis completed a pass to her tight end to the 6. Cubis finished the job by finding wide receiver Errin McIsaac open in the end zone to tie the game. Cubis’ pass for the 2 point conversion went off her receiver’s hands, so the score was 6-6.
The Panthers’ Alyssa McCarron returned the kickoff to her own 45. Gore ran and passed the Panthers down to the Bandits’ 12 with 10 seconds to go in the half, but the Bandits’ defense managed to hold them out of the end zone, so the score at half remained tied at 6.
Denver took to the air to start the second half, and drove down to the Mississippi 32. From there, Cubis found a wide open McIsaac, who broke a tackle to give Denver their first lead of the game. St. Ruth added the extra point, and Denver went ahead 13-6.
After a defensive struggle in the first half, the offenses woke up in the third quarter. Mary Woodard returned the Denver kickoff for 25 yards up the middle. Gore found Candice Davis for 15 yards, and after a short run, the Panther quarterback put one up for grabs, but the Denver linebacker couldn’t pull the ball in. Gore connected with Jackson for a 4 yard gain, and on 4th and 6, Gore ran to the Denver 18. McCarron hauled in a Gore pass on the next play and knifed down to the 18.
Gore ran twice to pick up another first down to the 8. Denver sacked Gore on first and goal, but the referees called a facemask penalty. A speed option pitch to Davis netted 2 yards to the 4, then Mississippi brought in their power set. Fullback Shardonay Jenkins blew open a hole that English Bennett ran through for the touchdown. Gore nailed the slant to Young for the 2 point conversion, and the Panthers went ahead 14-13 with 3:57 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers’ run defense continued to shut down the Bandits’ run game, and forced a punt. From the Mississippi 35, the Panthers demonstrated that their offense was back on track. On first down, Gore fired a quick strike to Young who caught the ball on her own 44, then sprinted down the field to the Denver 5 before Nicole Matheson caught up to save the touchdown.
Bennett carried the ball to the 2 on first down from the Humble Blue Zone. An offsides backed the ball up to the 7, the Gore recovered some of the yardage when she hit Jackson to the 3. That play ended the third quarter with the score 14-13 in the Panthers’ favor. It appeared that the Bandits might stage another defensive stand, but on the first play of the 4th quarter, Jackson jet swept into the end zone. Jackson took a Gore pitch, and added the 2 point conversion to put Mississippi ahead 22-13.
McCarron returned the kickoff 24 yards to her own 48. Cooper gained 6 on first down, then Cubis hit her receiver for another 2, but the Panthers’ defense held them and forced a punt.
The Denver defense reciprocated and forced a Mississippi punt. The Bandits offense moved it close to midfield, but Cubis’ pass attempt on 4th and 1 from the 45 fell short.
The Panthers took over and moved the ball steadily through a grudging Bandits defense. After sacking Gore for a 7 yard loss, however, the defensive showed a crack when Gore lofted a touch pass over a defender to hit Young in stride for a 26 yard touchdown. When the 2 point conversion failed, the score was 28-13 Mississippi with 3:04 left in the game.
With less than 3 minutes left, it looked like Mississippi would cruise to the win. Denver had other thoughts though. Cubis found Morgan once, and McGinnis twice, to move to the Panthers’ 5 yard line. The officials called pass interference on the next play, which moved the ball to the 2 with first and goal. Cubis threw the touchdown pass to her flanker. The 2 point conversion attempt failed, but Denver to within 9 points.
The Bandits did not attempt an onside kick, but nearly caught a break when the kick was mishandled, but the Panthers fell on the ball at their own 24. From there, they let time run out from the victory formation. The final score stood at Mississippi 28 Denver 19.
Denver was not given much of a chance in this one, but played well while dropping to 2-2. Mississippi showed their explosiveness to move to 3-1 on the season. Alyssa Mcguinnis earned Player of the Game for Denver, and Jakeira Mallory earned the award for Mississippi.
The road does not get easier for Denver, as they take on the 4-0 Texas Elite Spartans at home next Saturday. Mississippi also will face a hefty challenge when they travel to Atlanta to take on the 3-0 Phoenix.