Panthers aim for winning road trip

Published 12:01 pm Saturday, October 14, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

LAGRANGE – The LaGrange College Panthers are headed back to Virginia, and they’re hoping for a better result this time around.

Two weeks ago, LaGrange College built an early 17-point lead against Averett, but it ended up losing a 27-24 heartbreaker.

LaGrange College returned home last week and outlasted North Carolina Wesleyan 51-44, and it will be back in Virginia today to play Ferrum in a USA South game.

LaGrange College (3-3 overall) is 2-1 in the USA South, with the only conference loss coming against Averett.

Ferrum (3-2 overall), which was off last week after beating North Carolina Wesleyan 17-7 on Sept. 30, is 1-2 in the conference.

Despite the disappointing loss to Averett, LaGrange College is still in the thick of the race for the conference title.

Huntingdon leads the way with a 3-0 record, Averett is second at 3-1, and LaGrange College (2-1) and Maryville (1-1) both have one loss.

The Panthers likely have no margin for error, since a two-loss team won’t likely win the conference title.

After today’s game, LaGrange College will play Greensboro, Maryville and Huntingdon to end the regular season.

The conference champion earns an invitation to the NCAA Division III playoffs.

“There are still a lot of goals we have for ourselves out there,” LaGrange College Steve Pardue said.

LaGrange College’s title hopes were on the line last week against N.C. Wesleyan.

Both teams were unstoppable offensively, combining for more than 1,000 yards and 95 points, and it was LaGrange College scoring just enough to secure the win.

It helped that the Panthers had quarterback Connor Blair on their side.

Blair, a senior, completed 33-of-50 passes for 500 yards with six touchdowns, and he was named the USA South player of the week.

Pardue, who is in his first season as the Panthers’ head coach, was proud of the way the players bounced back following the tough loss to Averett.

“We had a tough one last week and had a chance there at the end, but they came back and did what we asked them,” Pardue said.

The Panthers have already matched last year’s win total, and they’ve got an opportunity to post only the second winning record in the history of a program that began in 2006.

In 2008, LaGrange College went 9-2 and made its lone appearance in the NCAA playoffs.

“It’s fun for me to see these guys doing what we’re asking them to do, and having some success, winning some games,” Pardue said. “You can just ask them so much, and if you don’t see it on the field sometimes, it gets a little tougher. So I’m really proud of them. They’re trying to do everything we’re asking them.”

N.C. Wesleyan had 515 yards of offense and it scored six touchdowns, although LaGrange College’s defense did make a critical stop in the final minute.

The Battling Bishops had the ball at the end with a chance to drive for a potential game-tying touchdown, but Brandon Ray forced a fumble that was recovered by Peyton Haynes to clinch the victory.

“It was a big play,” Haynes said. “We needed it to get them off the field.”

While the offense carried a heavy load, Pardue said everyone contributed to the win.

“We talk about it all the time, we’re not an offense or a defense, we’re just one football team,” Pardue said. “Some games, you may not score much, and some games you may score a bunch. But we’re going to stay together, and play as a team.”

The Panthers are averaging 32 points per game, and has been the case since the 2015 season, Blair is the headliner of the offense.

Blair is averaging 316 yards per game, and he has thrown 19 touchdown passes.

Marcus Campbell is the Panthers’ leading receiver with 41 catches for 610 yards with four touchdowns, and Austin Sapp has 28 catches for 374 yards with three touchdowns.

David Apiag has 20 catches for 257 yards with three touchdowns, and Kiontai Button has 12 receptions for 175 yards with a touchdown.

Running back Nicholas Searcy has 11 catches for 98 yards with a touchdown, and Djeimon Owens has caught eight balls for 172 yards with three touchdowns.

Brendan Thomas has two touchdown catches, and Brendon Scott and Juwan Brown have one apiece.

Scott and Searcy provide a potent one-two combination at the running-back position.

Scott leads the team with 26 carries for 386 yards with two touchdowns, and Searcy has run for 350 yards on 78 carries with four touchdowns.

Fabian Ryan leads the LaGrange College defense with 43 total tackles, including 5.5 for loss, and he has a fumble recovery.

Shamar Slappy has 25 tackles with three for loss, and Rayshaun Bagsby has 25 tackles, including 2.5 for loss.

Demetrius Rodgers has 23 tackles, five of them behind the line of scrimmage, and Elijah Robertson has 19 tackles.

Jamal Shakir has 18 tackles, and Devon Williams, Haynes and Joshua Rivers each has 15 tackles.

Ferrum gets it done with one of the USA South’s top defenses.

Through five games, Ferrum is limiting its opponents to an average of 17 points.

Offensively, Ferrum scores 21 points per game.

Ferrum is balanced offensively, with quarterback Zack Clifford

Brian Mann has run for 541 yards with four touchdowns, and Zack Clifford has thrown for 1,042 yards with eight touchdowns.