Detroit — It’s a moment that Panthers receiver Devin Funchess has been waiting seven years for.
As a junior at Farmington Hills Harrison High, Funchess helped lead his team to the 2010 Division 2 state title with a 38-28 win over Lowell at Ford Field.
But in that game, Funchess, who went on to play at Michigan, didn’t have much of an impact. He was held without a reception on three targets, including a drop, and had three tackles on defense.
In Sunday’s 27-24 win over the Lions, it was the same satisfying result, yet a completely different story for Funchess, who finished with a team-high seven catches for 53 yards and a touchdown.
The highlight of Funchess’ homecoming party came on his 10-yard touchdown reception from Cam Newton late in the second quarter that gave the Panthers a 17-10 lead heading into halftime.
According to Funchess, his score actually came on a broken play. He was originally running a route to the corner of the end zone but with nobody open and Newton having all day to throw, Funchess motioned to Newton he was going to run to the left.
As Newton threw to him, two Lions defenders flashed in front of Funchess as he leaped to make a toe-tapping catch in the back of the end zone.
"Man, it was fantastic. It was the hardest catch I've ever made,” said Funchess, who had a healthy contingent of family and friends on hand. “But it was great, man, that we got to get in there. We felt good. I knew everybody was waiting on it and watching.
“I've been waiting on it since I didn't get to play here my senior year of high school. It felt good."
Funchess was also a thorn in the Lions’ side on third-down situations. Five plays before Funchess scored, he kept Carolina’s drive alive with a 9-yard reception on a third-and-7 at Detroit’s 43-yard line.
Funchess was hit before the first-down marker by linebacker Jarrad Davis and defensive back Quandre Diggs, but fought through the contact to move the chains.
In all, four of Funchess’ seven catches came on third down, with three resulting in a first down and the other a touchdown.
“He's a big body and has a big catch radius,” safety Glover Quin said. “He made the catch and a lot of times just falls forward for the first down.”
It was also another productive outing for Funchess, whose numbers continue to skyrocket as he takes on a larger role in the offense with tight end Greg Olsen on the IR with a fractured foot.
Through five games, Funchess has 24 receptions for 269 yards and three touchdowns, and is on pace to shatter his career highs of 31 catches, 473 yards and five scores set his rookie year in 2015.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Sunday’s performance was just another example of Funchess’ continued growth in Carolina’s aerial assault.
“He’s got big play ability because of his size, his speed, his quickness,” Rivera said. “Good hands, good concentration, good focus. He and Kelvin (Benjamin) can become a tremendous one-two punch. I really think so. I think both those guys with their skill sets are a dangerous combination.”