Panthers aim for first win

Published 1:00 am Saturday, September 9, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

LAGRANGE – They’re hoping this is the day.

A week ago, the LaGrange College Panthers lost the lead with a minute left and fell to Birmingham Southern 29-25 in their season opener.

Today, LaGrange College will try to get its first victory when it goes on the road to play Berry College at the school’s on-campus stadium in Rome.

Berry opened its season with a 30-24 road win over the Maryville Scots.

In last week’s game, LaGrange College took the lead with 2:38 to play on a 72-yard touchdown pass from Connor Blair to David Apiag, but Birmingham Southern was able to drive down for the winning score.

The Panthers rallied from a 16-3 halftime deficit to take the lead twice in the second half, but the comeback fell short.

“The first half we did some things you can’t do to win football games,” LaGrange College head coach Steve Pardue said. “As the game went on, I think we got better. We’re going to take it, and learn from it, and keep going forward.”

Today’s assignment will be a challenging one.

Berry College, which is led by former LaGrange College defensive coordinator Tony Kunczewski, went 9-1 last season and won the Southern Athletic Association championship.

One of those wins came in Week 2 when Berry College secured a 52-37 victory at LaGrange College.

While the Vikings were hit hard by graduation, they showed last week that they’ll be a force to be reckoned with once again with a come-from-behind win.

Maryville led 24-13 at the half, but it was outscored 17-0 in the final two quarters by Berry.

Quarterback Slade Dale completed 14-of-21 passes for 145 yards with two touchdowns, and Jacob Rollins ran for 112 yards with a touchdown.

For the Panthers, there were some bright spots in the loss.

Senior quarterback Connor Blair, who along with his teammates is making the transition to a Wing T offense after running Matt Mumme’s pass-happy Air Raid offense last year, looked comfortable.

Blair completed 15-of-31 passes for 262 yards with a pair of touchdowns, although he did have three interceptions.

Blair also showed a proficiency running the ball, and he had an 8-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Blair’s ability to make big plays in the passing game.

He threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to Juwan Brown, as well as the 72-yard scoring strike to Apiag that gave the Panthers the late lead.

Junior Marcus Campbell, who has the most experience of any of the Panthers’ wide receivers, had five catches for 112 yard, and Austin Sapp caught four balls for 36 yards.

In the running game, senior Nicholas Searcy’s number was called 18 times, and he had 64 yards.

Brendon Scott had a productive day with 48 yards on 10 attempts.

It was, all in all, a productive offensive day for the Panthers.

“I looked at the numbers, and we have the ball 39 minutes, and they had it 19,” Pardue said.

“That’s what we want to be. We want to control the football, and be able to run. And we threw for almost 300 yards, so we made some big pass plays down the field.”

Defensively, linebacker Fabian Ryan had 10 tackles, all of the solo variety, including one for loss.

Defensive lineman Khary Paige had five tackles with a sack, and linebacker Rayshaun Bagsby had five tackles, and he recovered a fumble.

Zach Newberry had four tackles, and Joshua Rivers, Demetrius Rodgers and Austin Wagner each had three tackles.

Rodgers, a senior defensive lineman, had two tackles for loss and a pass breakup.

LaGrange College out-gained Birmingham Southern 435-306, it dominated the time of possession, but it also lost the turnover battle four to one and gave up some big plays late that proved costly.

The Panthers were also hit with a pair of key unsportsmanlike penalties following their go-ahead touchdown in the final minutes.

Those penalties allowed Birmingham Southern to begin its final drive in LaGrange College territory.

“There’s so many ifs, but that’s the difference between winning and losing,” Pardue said.