VALLEY — Lanett heard plenty about this game, all the way around the calendar.
Friday night, the Panthers finally had their chance to set conversation right by them.
Lanett topped next-door rival Valley 25-21 in the teams’ season opener at Valley Ram Stadium, surging ahead in the middle quarters and holding off a late Valley comeback bid to bring bragging rights a few miles back up the road to Lanett.
“The barbershop talk will be live on tomorrow, I can tell you that,” Lanett head coach Clifford Story smiled, after his team avenged last year’s loss in the rivalry series.
His son Kristian Story punched in a go-ahead touchdown late in the first quarter to put Lanett up 9-7, then hit Travaunte Abner for a 15-yard touchdown late in the second quarter to put the Panthers up 18-7 going into the halftime break.
Lanett led 25-7 in the second half before Valley’s Kadarell Hutchinson struck with an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to make it 25-14. In the fourth, Valley made it a one-score game with less than five minutes remaining, but Lanett held on — winning the showdown that saw its share of that off-field talk spill onto the field.
The younger Story, Lanett’s star quarterback committed to Alabama, egged on the “over-rated” chants from the Valley students after Lanett’s sluggish start, that saw the quarterback throw a first-play interception and fumble what could’ve been an early score away at the two-yard line, on the way to four first-half turnovers for Lanett.
Lanett settled down after the younger Story punched in that four-yard touchdown to put Lanett back ahead. Lanett led 2-0 after an early safety. Another Valley safety made it 11-7 before Abner’s touchdown grab.
“It just feels good,” Kristian Story said. There’s always an eye-catching dynamic brewing between Class 1A Lanett and Class 5A Valley, with campuses so close to one another. Last year, Lanett entered the season after winning the Class 2A state championship, but lost the season opener to Valley 28-22. “It does feel like redeemed ourselves.
“Especially, with me being in my last year, I’ve played them five times now,” the senior said. “I couldn’t lose my last one. It feels good.”
Opposite Kristian Story, Valley’s Hutchinson shined for the Rams. He broke loose for a 62-yard touchdown late in the first quarter to make it 7-2, then returned that kickoff in the third to make it a game again at 25-14.
Midway through the fourth, a bad snap on a Lanett punt attempt gave Valley the ball at the Lanett 15-yard line, and that’s when Dalton Dunn punched in a four-yard touchdown to cause some late drama.
Valley got the ball back with less than two minutes ledft, but Lanett’s Ka’Darius Zackery made a stellar shoe-string tackle on Hutchinson at Valley’s own eight-yard line as Valley got the ball back with 1:54 left, and then Zackery picked off Valley’s next pass to give Lanett the ball back with 1:47 and seal the game.
“Valley’s got a good football team,” Clifford Story said. “They’ve got some athletes. They were able to make some plays there at the end. KD Hutchinson, he’s a heck of a football player.
“We needed it,” he went on. “To start the year off with a victory, it does a lot for team morale and for moving forward. Last year we were able to fight through it and get some victories but this year we’re just hoping this will start a snowball effect.”
Kristian Story finished 19-of-29 passing for 245 yards and a touchdown through the air, while rushing for 40 more yards and one more score on 15 carries.
“I was real impressed, because he’s going to get that all year long,” Clifford Story said of his son bouncing back from those first turnovers among the first-game jitters in the opener, of shrugging off those ‘overrated’ chants on a fun rivalry night. “He’s prepared for it. We’ve talked about it a lot. If he just continues to progress each week, then we’ll be fine.”
Lanett 2 16 7 0 — 25
Valley 7 0 7 7 — 21
VHS— Kadarell Hutchinson 62 run (Mario Vega kick), 0:51.
LHS—Kristian Story 3 run (Rutilo Olea kick), 3:50.
LHS—Travaunta Abner 15 pass from Kristian Story (Rutilo Olea kick), 1:30.
LHS—Brandon Smith 1 run (Rutilo Olea kick), 1:25.
VHYS—Kadarell Hutchinson 85 kickoff return (Mario Vega kick), 1:11.
VHS—Dalton Dunn 4 run (Mario Vega kick), 4:35.