PANAMA CITY BEACH — For the second straight week, Arnold found itself down by a touchdown at halftime to a county rival. Unlike in last week’s loss to Mosley, it was the Marlins who dominated the second half and came out with the win Friday night at Gavlak Stadium.
Arnold outscored Rutherford 20-0 in a decisive third quarter to take a 26-20 victory and improve to 4-2 on the season. The Rams fell to 2-5. Cade Ledman passed for three touchdowns and ran for another to lead the Marlins, while Jerian Hardrick rushed 23 times for 133 yards. Three of Ledman’s four touchdowns came in the third quarter, as the Marlins erased a 14-6 halftime deficit to go up by two scores.
"I told you that (the Rams) would come out with a lot of pride," Arnold coach Josh Wright said. "They had guys that made the game extremely stressful but exciting. Our guys stepped up and made some really big plays. We could’ve laid down and felt sorry for ourselves, but they took their chewing at halftime and rebounded."
The Rams overcame turnovers on their first two possessions to take the lead after a 37-yard touchdown run by Montell Bouie and a 7-yard touchdown pass from Janathan Proctor to Donovan Smith made it 14-6 with 4:36 left in the second quarter.
Rutherford got the ball to start the second half, but Rams coach Loren Tillman’s gamble on a fake punt from near midfield backfired and gave the ball back to the Marlins. Arnold scored just two plays later, as a 45-yard run by Hardrick set up a 4-yard touchdown pass from Ledman to Casey Peppers to make it 14-12.
Ledman bulled his way into the end zone from a yard out on fourth-and-goal on Arnold’s next series to make it 19-14. Rutherford fumbled on its next series and Ledman took advantage one play later by connecting with Cal Kesterman for a 40-yard touchdown. Javier Elias’ extra point made it 26-14 with 2:53 left in the third quarter.
The Rams made things interesting late with a nine-play, 75-yard drive led by Reggie Tubbs, who tossed a 3-yard touchdown to Michael Hughes on a slant route on fourth-and-goal to cut the deficit to 26-20 with 1:49 to play. However, the ensuing onside kick failed and Arnold took over at the Rutherford 49-yard line. Four plays later, the Marlins gambled with a fake punt of their own on fourth-and-2 and converted on a 6-yard run by Peppers that allowed Arnold to run out the clock.
Despite the loss, it was one of the better performances this season for the Rams, who go into a much-needed bye week before closing the season with three straight games against 4A foes South Walton, Gadsden County, and Marianna.
"We didn’t play well for 48 minutes, we played well for about 36," Tillman said. "I am proud of the boys. We’ve got an absolute ton of bumps and bruises and guys we need to get healed up from ankle issues and other things. I’m proud because we had some other guys who had to step up tonight against an opponent in a higher classification and they played hard."
Bouie led Rutherford with 189 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, while Proctor rushed 15 times for 43 yards and completed 3 of 7 passes for 24 yards and a touchdown. Tubbs was 4 of 5 for 25 yards and a touchdown. Ledman finished 14 of 25 for 136 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed 14 times for 47 yards and a touchdown.
Arnold will jump back into District 1-5A competition next week against Pensacola at Gavlak.