The LaGrange College Panthers are perfect where it counts.
The Panthers lost their first two games this season, but in their USA South opener on Saturday, they overwhelmed visiting Greensboro (N.C.) 35-21.
It was an ideal way for the Panthers, who were off last week, to begin their eight-game conference schedule.
“It feels great to get on the right side of that scoreboard, especially in conference play,” said LaGrange College’s Scott Chewning, who had six tackles on Saturday. “We’re 1-0 right now. That’s all that matters.”
The Panthers jumped out to a 7-0 lead less than five minutes into the game, and they eventually built a 35-7 lead before Greensboro notched a couple of late touchdowns.
“We worked our way through those first two weeks. They were tough,” LaGrange College head coach Todd Mooney said. “We learned a lot. We had a chance to focus in on this game and start working toward a conference title. You do that one game at a time.”
Quarterback Graham Craig continued his torrid start to the season with 344 passing yards and four touchdowns, and he now has more than 1,100 yards in just three games.
Freshman wide receiver Griffin Roelle was a favorite target of Craig’s with eight catches for 103 yards and three touchdowns, including a sensational diving catch in the end zone to cap the scoring for the Panthers.
LaGrange College’s defense also delivered a terrific performance.
Greensboro did have a couple of impressive drives late, but the outcome had long since been decided by then.
“We were prepared,” said linebacker Andre Carter, who led the team with nine tackles. “We had two weeks to prepare for it, so that gave us a slight edge. We were focused. We came in this morning, and we were just focused. Everybody was together.”
The game started on a down note for the Panthers, with Craig throwing an interception on the first play from scrimmage.
Moments later, though, Justin McIntyre blocked a punt, and the Panthers needed just four plays to go 37 yards, with Craig finding Marsalis Jackson for a 23-yard touchdown, and the first of five Will Jeffcoat extra points made it a 7-0 game.
The Panthers put together two more touchdown drives in the second quarter to build a 21-0 halftime lead.
The Panthers went six plays in 34 yards, with Marquius Young scoring on a 1-yard run with 7:36 left in the half, and it was 14-0.
When the Panthers got the ball back, they went 76 yards in five plays, with Craig hooking up with Roelle from nine yards out for the touchdown with just 50 seconds left in the half, and the lead was up to 21-0.
Greensboro seemed to grab a bit of momentum with a touchdown midway through the third quarter, but the Panthers answered less than a minute later on a 33-yard scoring pass from Craig to Roelle, and it was a 28-7 game with 6:08 showing on the clock.
Early in the fourth quarter, Graham and Roelle hooked up again.
Graham lofted the ball toward the end zone, and Roelle went airborne and came up with the catch as he landed in the end zone.
Greensboro made a quarterback change at that point, and it paid off, with Mark Graham completing 4-of-6 passes for 113 yards with two touchdowns.
It was too little too late, though, as the Panthers got a big home win.
LaGrange College will be on the road on Saturday at North Carolina Wesleyan.
“It’s a learning experience every week,” Mooney said. “We’ve gotten better on both sides of the ball each week. And that’s a good thing. We have to keep improving.”