After opening conference play with a convincing 40-13 victory over North Carolina Wesleyan, all the Panthers needed to do was beat a winless Averett team last week to move to 2-0 in the USA South.
It didn’t happen.
The Panthers (1-4 overall) carried a 7-0 lead into the fourth quarter, but the visiting Cougars rallied for a 14-7 victory.
Averett got an 18-yard run for the tying touchdown, and it took the lead on a punt return later in the quarter.
The Panthers were in control for much of the game, but the Cougars hung around, and they found a way to win it.
“That is football. It’s tough,” LaGrange College head coach Todd Mooney said. “The thing we had to look back at is the places where we had the ability to control the game and didn’t. That’s what we’ve been focused on.”
The Panthers took the lead in the first quarter on a Nick Simmons 14-yard touchdown run, but they struggled offensively for much of the day, although they did rush for 174 yards.
In the passing game, the Panthers managed just 116 yards, and they had three costly interceptions.
The bright spot was a second straight terrific performance by the defense.
The Panther defense only gave up one score, and that came after Averett began a possession at the LaGrange College 18-yard line following an interception.
“They played really well,” Mooney said of the defensive players. “Our defense had a lot to be proud of Saturday, but at the same time, there’s not a single one of them that is satisfied with that. They see some things they need to fix. They’re focused forward. All the guys are.”
The Panthers now turn their attention to a strong opponent in Christopher Newport.
After opening the season with two losses, Christopher Newport has won three in a row, including two straight in USA South play.
The Captains are averaging 28 points a game, and they do it with a balanced attack.
Quarterback Aaron Edwards has thrown for 490 yards with five touchdowns, and three different running backs have at least 200 yards this season, including Marcus Morrast and Markeese Stovall, who each have 276 yards.
Morrast leads the way with four touchdowns, and the Captains have eight rushing scores.
While the Captains are putting up big numbers, they’re also giving up some points.
The Captains are surrendering 30 points a game, including a combined 62 points in back-to-back conference wins over Ferrum and Maryville.
Still, there’s no question this will be a formidable challenge for the Panthers.
“(The players) know how good this team is,” Mooney said. “They’re excited to go out and test themselves. And so am I.”
If the Panthers could pull off the win today, it would keep them in the chase for the conference championship and the accompanying invitation to the NCAA Division III playoffs.
If the Panthers lose, though, it’ll be an uphill climb since they’ll have two losses.
“We have to take care of business,” Mooney said.