DERBY — Derby football coach Brandon Clark was ejected in the first quarter against Southeast on Friday.
The departure of Derby's offense wasn't quite as formal, but the Panthers' sharp decline after a strong start allowed Southeast to rally.
Still, the spark from the early drama allowed Derby to build a lead, and its defense had two important stands in the fourth quarter of the Panthers' 17-12 win in a Class 6A-District 6 opener.
The Panthers can clinch a playoff berth with a win over East next week.
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"We came out pretty strong in the first half and did a lot of stuff right," Derby receiver/defensive back Devin Hedgepeth said. "The second half, we couldn't get our offense rolling. But I'm proud of the defense. We made the big plays when we needed to."
Clark argued a non-call against Hedgepeth with six minutes to go in the first quarter and was ejected during a timeout after receiving two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Offensive coordinator Joel Applebee acted as coach the rest of the game.
The Panthers hadn't had a first down to that point but scored touchdowns on its next two drives to take a 12-0 lead and went into halftime leading 17-6.
"We knew we were going to have to step up and make the big plays because (Clark) wouldn't be there for that emotional side," Hedgepeth said.
The Panthers managed two first downs in the second half and its defense wore down because it was on the field for 33 of 52 plays.
After doing hardly more than notching a 49-yard touchdown pass in the first half, Southeast finally organized a lengthy drive late in the third quarter, only to see its first good chance to create momentum fall short.
The Buffaloes ended a 13-play, 69-yard drive when running back Joseph Randle fumbled a direct snap near the goal line.
Southeast still had a chance to win, though, scoring on its next series and intercepting a Tyler Harrison pass with 2:10 to go in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Jeremiah Plowden, who had completed five of his previous six passes, misfired on four straight and Derby got the ball back to run out the clock.
"There were several things that probably would have made a difference," Southeast coach Gary Guzman said. "We did not execute the way we should have, and it cost us."
Southeast (3-4, 0-1) 0 6 0 6 — 12 Derby (5-2, 1-0) 7 10 0 0 — 17
D—Hedgepeth 11 pass from Harrison (Young kick)
D—Moore 4 run (Young kick)
SE—Taylor 49 pass from Plowden (run failed)
D—Young 25 FG
SE—Randle 5 run (pass failed)
Rushing—Southeast, Randle 16-51, Plowden 13-6, Metcalfe 1-0; Derby, Moore 16-62, Hedgepeth 4-28, Harrison 10-21, Oaks 8-19, Sparks 1-2, Jewell 2-(-7).
Passing—Southeast, Plowden 10-19-163-0; Derby, Harrison 7-15-56-1.
Receiving—Southeast, Randle 3-49, Carter 3-45, Young 2-50, Utsey 1-12, Bluma 1-7; Derby, Sparks 2-21, Hedgepeth 2-20, Reese 2-12, Oaks 1-3.