Panthers fall 31-28 as season comes to an end at Heard County

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Franklin, Georgia- The Union County Panthers (4-6) traveled to Franklin, Georgia to face the Heard County Braves (7-4) in the first round of the GHSA AA State Playoffs.

The Panthers had a tough task ahead as Heard had a lot of speed and Chief Borders, a 6’3, 230 LB, 2021 University of Florida commit.

First Quarter

The Panthers started off on defense and the Braves quickly picked up some first downs. The Braves completed a quick 37 yard pass to Senior Ayden Cannon to get them inside the Panthers 20 yard line and scored on the very next play to go up  7-0, early in the first quarter. Jonah Daniel got things going early and woke everyone up with a quick 17 yard reception as he ran over a defender. Carson Walker also got things going early with a quick carry for another first down. The Panthers had the ground game going on the first drive as 3 of their first downs were on rushing plays. Kaston Hemphill completed a 25 yard pass to Junior Keyton Chitwood to put the Panthers inside the Braves 20 yard line. Daniel almost scored and put the Panthers inside the 2 yard line and on the next play, Junior Carson Walker would score on a 2 yard run to tie it at 7. The Braves were moving the ball with ease as the Panthers were missing easy tackles due to the quickness of Senior Running-back Ashton Bonner. Bonner would lead the drive and score on a 1 yard rush to put the Braves ahead 14-7. The Panthers offense wouldn’t get anything going as the Braves defense was sniffing everything out and sacked Hemphill for a big loss. The Braves would quickly get the ball inside Panther territory as Quarterback Maurice Fench completed a 45 yard pass to Junior Receiver Isaiah O’neil. Junior Cornerback Eli Peugh played the pass well, but it was a perfectly placed pass. The Braves would score on a 24 yard pass to Michael Whitten to put the Braves up 21-7. The Panthers offense would punt the ball back to the Braves after a quick 3 yard rush and 2 straight incompletions.

Second Quarter

The Panther defense would get 2 huge tackles on first & second down, with a huge sack by Sophomore Gage Barnes. On the very next play, the Braves called the perfect play at the right time. They ran a bubble screen to Bonner and he took it 79 yards for a touchdown. The Braves led 28-7.  The Panthers started moving the ball again on offense with some quick passes for big first downs. Daniel picked up a huge first down to keep the Panthers drive alive. Daniel also hurdled a man as he put the Panthers inside the Braves 10 yard line, giving the Panthers some momentum. Hemphill found Senior Noah Underwood on a 5 yard pass as he bounced off the attempted tackle to make the score 28-14. Just as the Braves were trying to hurry down the field and get some extra points, Hemphill would intercept the pass and take it down to the Braves 37 yard line. Hemphill would find Noah Underwood and Underwood would take it inside the Braves 10 yard line with less than 30 seconds left in the half. The Panthers would run a reverse pass play and throw the short pass to get inside the 2 yard line but would get called for a penalty. The Panthers would kick a field goal and make it 28-17 at halftime.

Third Quarter

The Panthers would start the second half with the ball and quickly pick up some first downs as they were balancing the run and the pass. The Panthers offense would stall around midfield and be forced to punt. The Panthers defense would start playing like they have all season to start the second half. Sophomore Elijah Helton would make a key tackle for loss on 3rd and short to force the Braves to punt. Daniel would pick up a first down on the first play of the drive as he was having the best game he has had all year. The Panthers offense was fighting for any extra yards they could get to keep the ball moving and pick up key first downs. Just as the Panthers offense was gaining the momentum, the Braves brought pressure on 3 straight plays to force the Panthers to try a long field goal. Mason McCombs would nail the 43 yard field goal to make it 28-20. The Panthers special teams made some huge tackles throughout the game to keep the Braves from attempting any big gains on returns. The Braves offense would go back to passing the ball and quickly move deep into Panther territory.

Fourth Quarter

The Braves would get inside the Panther 5 yard line but be pushed all the way back to the 30 yard line due to penalties. The Panthers defense did a great job of holding the Braves out of the end zone and hold them to a field goal. The Field Goal was good and the Braves extended their lead to 31-20. Hemphill would attempt a deep pass on first down and it would be intercepted, but as Bonner would attempt to run it back, Junior Trace Wright would strip the ball and the Panthers would recover and regain possession. The Panthers would pick up a huge first down to keep the drive alive around the Braves 45 yard line as Noah Underwood would fight for extra yards. On the next play, Hemphill would find Chitwood on a 34 yard pass to put the Panthers inside the Braves 15 yard line. On second down, Walker would score on a 6 yard rush to make it 31-26. The Panthers went for a 2 point conversion and would be successful, to make the score 31-28 with 4 minutes remaining. The Panthers would get a key stop on second down as Bonner was forced out of bounds but Noah Underwood was called for a late hit, which gave the Braves an automatic first down. The Panthers were going to have to use the rest of their timeouts and stop the Braves to give their offense a chance to get back on the field to tie or win the game. The Braves would pick up a first down and run the clock out and go on to win the game 31-28. After a hard fought game, the Panthers season comes to and end. The Panthers have a lot to be proud of as they fought back hard and had a chance to win the game against a very talented Heard County Team.

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