Landon Machristie threw for 161 yards and three touchdowns and, with help from Devron Taylor’s 86-yard kickoff return, had 2A’s fourth-ranked team within a score of 3A’s fifth-ranked team in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Champions Challenge jamboree in Cramton Bowl.
Straughn, a team with twice Wellborn’s roster, mounted the drive it needed late to win 35-26, but Wellborn showed a big-strike passing game to offset its already strong running game.
“I’ve got confidence in all my receivers and all of my backs I’ve got going out of the backfield and the line of scrimmage,” Machristie said. “I mean, I can just throw it up, and they go run under it and get it.”
He completed six of 12 passes for 161 yards, including touchdown passes of 77 and 21 yards to Kevin Mixon and 34 yards to Corri Tignor.
Machristie’s one interception was a hopeful heave on the final play of the first half, run down by Straughn’s Brennan Head at the goal line.
The down-field passing was a different look for Wellborn under fifth-year head coach Jeff Smith. Son Judd Smith ran the Panthers’ three-back, run-oriented offense like a Princeton point guard for four years but didn’t show the deep-ball arm.
The bigger Machristie, the Panthers’ starting fullback previously, does show the big arm. It clearly came as a shock to Straughn, which hadn’t seen him play quarterback on film.
“To be honest with you — and you could probably tell by some of our adjustments — we didn’t expect that,” Straughn coach Trent Taylor said. “The young man did a great job.
“A kid who played fullback last year and played quarterback like he did tonight? That’s tremendous.”
That Wellborn showed that capability in what officially counts as a jamboree — and against a ranked, higher-classified team — was the biggest takeaway from the night.
“It’s what we had open,” Jeff Smith said. “We had some plays open that we were ready to hit in the passing game, and we were able to hit them.”
Machristie’s first bomb to Mixon gave the Panthers a 7-0 lead at 5:50 of the first quarter.
Tignor sprinted across the field and ran down Machristie’s second touchdown pass, right in front of teammate Robert Tucker, to bring Wellborn within 22-20 at 11:02 of the third quarter.
Machristie dropped his third scoring pass perfectly between two defenders to Mixon in the end zone, cutting Straughn’s lead to 28-26 with 8:33 to play.
The Panthers also got big boost on Taylor’s kickoff return, which tied the game at 14-14 at 9:03 of the second quarter.
“When I first got the kickoff, I saw the front wedge,” Taylor said. “They blocked, and they gave me enough room to make the play, and I did it for my team.”
The big plays helped Wellborn overcome Straughn’s 341-59 edge in rushing yards and 397-200 edge in total yards.
The Panthers had a chance to take the lead when D.J. Rhoden made one of his two fumble recoveries on the night, pouncing on a bad handoff exchange between Straughn quarterback Rollin Kinsaul and running back Daryl George II.
The turnover gave Wellborn the ball at Straughn’s 27-yard line at 9:38 of the third quarter, and the Panthers moved to a first and goal at the 5. Straughn held, stopping runs by Chantz Goodman and one by Machristie.
“We had our chances to win,” Jeff Smith said. “We got down there on the goal line and didn’t punch it in. If we had punched it in right there, that would have put us ahead. We had a chance to tie it up (on Tignor’s touchdown) and got that penalty for celebration right there.
“Those were things right there that could have swung the game our way, but you know what? It’s a jamboree. That’s what it was, but it was a great experience.”
George led Straughn with 93 yards on 11 rushes. He rushed for touchdowns of three and seven yards and caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from Kinsaul just before halftime.
Kinsaul scored twice on sneaks and accounted for 142 yards in total offense.
But Jeff Smith came away having shown his 2A competition a big-strike passing capability, which will help when teams crowd Wellborn’s running game.
“We’ve got to do it live,” he said. “It’s easy to throw the football in practice, when the kids (on defense) are younger than the ones that are doing it, but it’s hard to do it against good competition, and that’s a good team tonight.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.