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Parkview finding ways to come up big in the clutch

Photo: Karl L. Moore Parkview's Demonte Dawson (2) finds room to run as South Gwinnett's Anthony Beck (42) tries to make the tackle during their game earlier this season.

Photo: Karl L. Moore Parkview's Demonte Dawson (2) finds room to run as South Gwinnett's Anthony Beck (42) tries to make the tackle during their game earlier this season.

LILBURN -- When Parkview football coach Cecil Flowe began experiencing chest pains during halftime of his team's game against Central Gwinnett on Oct. 26, he actually wasn't that surprised.

Based on how close most of their games have been this season, the Panthers have been giving a lot of their supporters heart palpitations.

"There's no question they did it to me," Flowe joked. "I'm sure of that."

Despite all the close calls, Flowe and the Panther nation have been able to keep their respective heart rates under control most of the season because that particular night against Central -- a 30-27 overtime loss -- has been the exception, rather than the rule.

Of Parkview's 12 games so far heading into Friday's Class AAAAAA state quarterfinal game against Colquitt County at the Big Orange Jungle, eight of them have been decided by a touchdown or less.

And more often than not, the Panthers (9-3 overall) have come through, winning six of those eight games, including the last two in overtime during the first two rounds of the postseason.

"We have some guys out there who have figured out that you have to play every down," Flowe said of his team. "We've had three overtime games this year, and we've had our backs against the wall. We watched that field goal go through (the uprights) against Central and we felt we left that game on the field. But (the kids have) played hard about every week, and they've found a way just about every week."

That the Panthers have found a way comes as no surprise to many of the players.

Some, like running back/outside linebacker Justis Rosser, believe the Panthers' determination stems from the doubts from observers outside the program who note that Parkview had not won a state playoff game since 2005 before a 20-17 overtime win over Walton in this year's first-round two weeks ago.

"I think we just have the will and desire to win," said the 5-foot-6, 185-pound junior, who has run for 731 yards and 10 touchdowns on offense while combining for 49 tackles and assists and added a half-sack and two interceptions on defense. "I think we have a bit more push than other teams do because we've always been counted as underdogs. To this day, I still don't think everybody respects us. They think we're going to lose. So, we're just trying to win for our team.

"We just figure when the times get hard, we've got to push it out. We've made it this far, why not give it 100 percent and finish the game?"

The Panthers have had little other choice than to adopt a never say die attitude given the number of injuries they've had this year, particularly on the offensive end.

First, starting quarterback Rob Youngblood was lost for six weeks with a broken collarbone suffered in a 27-7 win over then No. 1 state- and nationally ranked Grayson on Sept. 14.

Then in the next to last week of the regular season, the Panthers lost leading rusher Chris Carson to a season-ending leg injury.

"It's been fragile for our offense all year," Flowe said. "There's been those kind of setbacks all year, and it's been an up and down kind of ride. ... Yet, we're still finding ways to win."

A big reason the Panthers have been finding ways to win is that while the offense has been searching for spare parts though all the injuries, the defense has remained rock solid.

Parkview has held some of the state's highest-scoring offenses such as West Forsyth, South Gwinnett, Grayson and even Region 7-AAAAAA champion Norcross well below their season averages in points to keep the teams in games.

That might seem like a lot of pressure to put on one unit, but according to senior linebacker Kyle Williams, it's nothing compared to what the Panthers' defense goes though in practice every day, which has served to be excellent preparation for the clutch moments of a close game.

"Our coaches pressure us hard (in practice)," said Williams, Parkview's leading tackler with a combined 107 stops and assists, including five sacks. "In games, it's kind of a breeze to just play football. Plus, we like to get after it."

And while the defense has been keeping the Panthers close, several player have stepped in for injured starters to help the Panthers find just enough offense at just the times they need it to put them over the top.

For instance, Mac Marshall came through as a game manager in place of Youngblood before moving back to his natural receiver position once Youngblood returned.

Perhaps more importantly, Rosser and others like Shaq Vereen (29 carries, 144 yards, 3 TDs) and Brandon Sullivan (27-121) have formed a committee of running back to handle the ground game in Carson's absence.

"Honestly, I just tell myself that if we want to win, I'll do whatever it takes to win," Rosser said. "I don't mind contributing on both sides of the ball for my team. It's fine. Our offense has a pretty open mind. We practice a lot of plays and a lot of different formations. I think everybody's mental toughness has stepped up. It started in the offseason and kept building up."