In a game much closer than the final score indicated, Chapel Hill lost to Paulding County Friday night, 41-22 in Dallas.

The Panthers (0-9, 0-8 Region 5-AAAAA) led the Patriots (4-5, 3-5) 22-20 early in the second half, but a series of miscues – including controversial calls – cost the Panthers a chance to pick up their first win of the season.

“I’m disappointed in how poorly that game was officiated. It was bad,” first-year Panther head coach Justin DeShon said following the game. “It was inconsistent. They didn’t do a good job of managing the game. They hurt us with some bad calls, inadvertent whistles that cost us a chance to be in the ball game. It’s tough to do that to your kids.”

Chapel Hill appeared to recover a muffed punt late in the third quarter while trailing 34-22. Instead, after some discussion by the referees, the Panthers re-kicked the ball. The second kick was handled properly by Paulding and gave the home team great field position.

DeShon was not happy with the decision.

“They said we did not have possession of the football when he blew the whistle inadvertently,” DeShon said. “So we had to re-kick it.”

Earlier in the game, a fight involving several players from both teams broke out following a missed point-after-touchdown attempt by Paulding County. When the melee was settled, two Patriots and five Panthers were ejected from the game. Andrew Brice and Vince Clark were thrown out for Paulding County. Aaron Jeffries, Josh Murphy, Keegan Moody, Khaleed Holt and Dameon Griggs were ejected for Chapel Hill.

But DeShon said one of the disqualified Panthers was not involved in the fight or even on the field.

“They kicked a kid out of the game that didn’t even come off the bench,” said DeShon.

Regarding what caused the fighting, DeShon described it as pushing and shoving that got out of hand.

Most of Chapel Hill’s success on offense was due to its power running game. The Panthers lined up with seven linemen on offense and with the quarterback under center. Most running plays went to Tyre Shelton, who ran hard on the night and rushed for all three Chapel Hill touchdowns. DeShon estimated the team passed 300 rushing yards on the night.

The remaining Chapel Hill points came on a safety of Patriot quarterback Bailey Johnson early in the third quarter, giving the Panthers their only lead. The passing game was much less effective as Chapel Hill completed only one of nine attempts. The weather likely played a role as rain poured down on a cold Halloween night.

Paulding ran out of the shotgun and relied on lots of misdirection and short passes. Johnson and Tre Lewis alternated at quarterback, while Dondre Ledford took the most carries at running back. Out on the flats, Antonio Golden and Malik Rush proved elusive wide receivers once the ball got in their hands.

Ledford scored the Patriots’ first two touchdowns and Rush caught a touchdown pass before halftime. A key play for Chapel Hill in the first half was William Profit strip-sacking Johnson and recovering the fumble deep in Paulding territory. Johnson was injured on the play and the turnover led to a Shelton touchdown run.

The score was tied 20-20 at the break. But after Chapel Hill’s safety, Paulding slowly pulled away thanks to touchdowns from Golden, Rush and Lewis that put the game out of reach.

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