Blair shines as Panthers win at home

Published 2:09 pm Monday, September 25, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

LAGRANGE – The system has changed, but Connor Blair’s ability to befuddle opposing defenses remains the same.

Blair, LaGrange College’s senior quarterback, threw for 432 yards with four touchdowns to lead his team to a 38-28 home win over Brevard (N.C.) on Saturday at Callaway Stadium.

Blair is playing in a different offense this season under new head coach Steve Pardue, but he continues to put up big numbers, and he had one of his best days as a Panther on Saturday.

Blair completed 25-of-35 passes for 432 yards with four touchdowns and just one interception, and he set a school career record for passing yards in the process.

After opening the season with back-to-back losses, the Panthers have won two in a row to even their record.

“We grow a lot better each week,” Blair said. “That’s one of our motives, is to always expect to be better, always expect to improve. Don’t settle for how you did this game. Always expect to get better.”

For two years, Blair put up ridiculous numbers in previous head coach Matt Mumme’s air-raid offense where he played exclusively out of the shotgun.

Now, Blair is under center running the Wing T offense, and he continues to get it done.

“I’m loving our new coach, loving our new offense, and just having a good time,” Blair said.

Blair’s favorite target on Saturday was Marcus Campbell, who had seven catches for 210 yards with an 80-yard touchdown.

Austin Sapp added six catches for 101 yards, including a critical 55-yard scoring reception in the final minutes that extended the lead from three to 10.

Nicholas Searcy and Brendan Thomas both had touchdown catches, and Blair completed passes to seven different players.

Brendon Scott added a touchdown run for the Panthers.

While Campbell had 18 catches a year ago, the other men Blair is throwing the ball to this season are all getting their first significant playing time.

It hasn’t been an issue, though, with Blair looking right at home with his receivers.

“In practice last year with the air raid we had, I still threw to all these guys, so I knew how they are,” Blair said. “I came back a couple of times during the summer just to continue to get better.”

How much confidence Pardue has in his quarterback was on display late in the fourth quarter.

After Brevard scored to get within three, LaGrange College stayed aggressive offensively, and Sapp got behind the defense and Blair found him for the 55-yard touchdown.

“We wanted to run the clock, but they were loaded up the box, so we trust our guys that they can win one-on-one battles,” Pardue said. “That’s the same thing we did at the start of the second half (on Campbell’s touchdown).”

Brevard made it to the LaGrange College 15-yard line on its final possession, but a field-goal attempt was blocked by Bryan Oliver to end the suspense.

“They’d won big last week, so they came in with a lot of confidence,” Pardue said of Brevard. “We’re getting confidence, and we’re getting better.”

After taking 24-21 lead at the half on a 32-yard field goal by Zachary Kudwa as time expired, the Panthers needed one play to push the lead to 10 in the third quarter.

Brevard went three-and-out on its first possession of the second half, and LaGrange College took over at its own 20 following the punt.

On first down, Blair threw deep to Campbell for the 80-yard touchdown, and Kudwa’s extra point gave the Panthers a 31-21 lead.

That’s the way it remained until Brevard scored a touchdown with six minutes to play on a 13-yard scoring pass from O’Shay Carter to Bubba Craven, and LaGrange College’s lead was down to three.

The Panthers were in a third-and-14 situation at their own 22 when Blair threw a dart to Campbell for a 16-yard completion.

Two plays later, it was Blair and Sapp hooking up for the critical touchdown, and the lead was 10 once again.

“We knew once they went down and scored that we had to get it right back,” Blair said. “I told the offensive line, guys we’ve got to go down and score, we’ve got to help the defense out. Once they scored, I knew on the first snap of the ball that we were going to do something.”

In the first half, it was back-and-forth, with the teams combining for seven scores.

The Panthers struck first, with Blair’s 7-yard scoring pass to Thomas capping a five-play, 73-yard drive.

Back came Brevard, with Jarkevius Hopkins scoring on a 7-yard run, and it was a 7-7 game with 7:09 left in the first quarter.

Three minutes later, Brevard took its first lead of the game when Nazayah Brown returned a punt 32 yards for the touchdown.

The Panthers answered with back-to-back touchdowns.

Searcy, the Panthers’ outstanding senior running back, had a 31-yard touchdown catch from Blair, and it was 14-14 game as the first quarter ended.

With 8:54 left in the half, Scott scored on a 14-yard run.

Brevard evened it minutes later on another Hopkins scoring run, this one covering 27 yards, and Kudwa’s 32-yard field gave the Panthers a 24-21 lead at the break, setting up the dramatic second half.

LaGrange College has won two in a row for the first time since 2014, and it will try to make it three straight on Saturday against Averett.

“Averett’s a good team,” Blair said. “I’ve never beaten them, so we’ll see.”

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