By Josh Kraeger
Special to the Daily
In a showcase that pitted two teams searching for their first win of the season, the Jonesboro Cardinals emerged victorious over the Forest Park Panthers, securing a 48-13 win Friday night at Tara Stadium.
The Panthers were on the prowl early Friday night, striking swiftly and efficiently to jump out to an early 13-0 lead over the Cardinals. This lead was a direct result of junior quarterback Lemuel Fuller's two first-quarter rushing touchdowns. The first came on a one-yard push over the goal-line to give Forest Park a 7-0 lead with 8:50 left in the quarter. The second came after Jonesboro turned the ball over on downs. Fuller burst out of the backfield for a 44-yard run that gave the Panthers a more comfortable lead at 13-0, with 5:15 remaining in the quarter.
However, Jonesboro showed no signs of letting its early mistakes get to them. Sophomore wide receiver Cameron Sutton returned the ensuing Panthers kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown. The Cardinals defense had an ax to grind with the Panthers offense after letting Fuller run over them early and easily. Jonesboro responded with a solid defensive stand that shut the Panthers' offense down. Their efforts culminated in a blocked punt that was recovered in the end zone for the second Cardinal touchdown of the quarter with 2:41 remaining.
Forest Park would be held scoreless for the remainder of the game. While the Panthers still managed to compile impressive statistics running the ball, they could not find the offensive rhythm that had helped them jump out to an early lead. Fuller ran the ball 11 times for a total of 150 yards and two touchdowns before he was injured in the fourth quarter.
Senior fullback Stephon Clark also contributed 69 yards on 15 carries. Their offensive production just did not cut it for Forest Park, as the Panthers committed six turnovers, including three interceptions thrown by Fuller.
"We had more heart and more intensity than our previous games," Sutton said. "We started out slow, but the momentum shifted to our side and we picked it up." The momentum did indeed change hands, with the Cardinal captains carrying much of that momentum on their shoulders. Junior strong safety Cedric Nettles patrolled the secondary all night long, coming up with three interceptions and a few hard-hitting tackles that certainly sent a message to the Panther offense.
"We just made adjustments and came out hard tonight," Nettles said. Many of those adjustments resulted in strong play by both the offense and defense of the Cardinals. Another captain, sophomore quarterback Alejandro Bennifield threw for 135 yards and two touchdowns.
"We had the defense and special teams scoring touchdowns," Bennifield said. "We were scoring touchdowns on the other side of the ball and that made the difference tonight." One of those touchdowns came on a fourth quarter play that sealed the victory for the Cardinals. Senior defensive end and team co-captain Eric Herkley returned a fumble 60 yards for the touchdown, giving the Cardinals a commanding 48-13 lead with 5:10 left in the game.
The fumble was caused by junior offensive lineman Garrius Hudson, another one of the team's four captains. Hudson anchored the defense all night long, coming up big with six tackles and a forced fumble. The hard work paid off for the Cardinals, who thoroughly enjoyed their first win of the season.
"It feels good, definitely a good feeling and we'd like to have more," Nettles said. "Each day we just have to work hard to get better and better." The Cardinals will look to do this by following their team motto.
"We just have to remember to abide by our team motto, 'getting bigger, faster and stronger' and continue getting better as a team," Sutton said.