Late rally comes up short in season opener

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Late rally comes up short in season opener

Junior Nick Brown looks for room to run against a tough Newnan defense. The Panthers were held to 11 total yards in the first quarter.

Junior Nick Brown looks for room to run against a tough Newnan defense. The Panthers were held to 11 total yards in the first quarter.

Aelise Gagliano

Junior Nick Brown looks for room to run against a tough Newnan defense. The Panthers were held to 11 total yards in the first quarter.

Aelise Gagliano

Aelise Gagliano

Junior Nick Brown looks for room to run against a tough Newnan defense. The Panthers were held to 11 total yards in the first quarter.

Rilee Stapleton, Staff writer

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The Panthers opened their season Friday night in a thrilling fashion against the AAAAAAA Newnan Cougars. The Panthers were ready for a hard fought game against the bigger school, and a late series of scores helped the matchup reach its potential.

“We got a little momentum,” head coach Chad Phillips said. “We had a good play or two and all the sudden we believed we could play with these people.”

It was a tough task for the AAAAA Panthers to take on such a bigger school, but they showed they could compete. For most of the game, the Panthers struggled on both sides of the ball. The offense was held to 11 total yards, while the Panther defense gave up 92 yards in the first quarter.

“We have to give them credit, they studied their assignments,” junior running back Nick Brown said. “We missed blocks and that can change the whole game.”

Junior quarterback Joey DeLuca hands the ball off to Gilley. The Panthers gained 270 total rushing yards in the loss to the Cougars.

Aelise Gagliano
Junior quarterback Joey DeLuca hands the ball off to Gilley. The Panthers gained 270 total rushing yards in the loss to the Cougars.

The Panthers couldn’t get rolling early, as the stout Cougar defense stopped whatever Starr’s Mill tried to do. The Panthers started the first drive with a couple passing plays, but they couldn’t connect, and had to punt. They only ran seven plays compared the Cougars 21 in the first quarter.

On the other side of the ball, Newnan’s offense had no problem driving down the field. The Cougars backfield duo of junior Martavious Parks and senior AJ Robinson ran all over the Panther defense. On Newnan’s first drive, Robinson picked 18 yards and scored the only touchdown of the first quarter.

“When you play against these bigger schools, things happen so fast,” Phillips said. “We have some new guys who aren’t used to that game speed.”

In the second quarter, the Panthers gained 76 total yards, one more yard than the Cougars. However, Newnan was the only team to score in the period, when senior quarterback Kadarius Satterwhite connected with senior wide receiver Marquan Hill for a 20-yard touchdown with 27 seconds left in the half. The Panthers found themselves down 14-0 at half, but looked like they could get the offense going.

“We didn’t have as many breakdowns mentally, and we started making blocks,” junior running back Cole Gilley said. “We focused on getting a few yards every play instead of trying to break a big one.”

Newnan started the second half with the ball and the momentum. The Panthers desperately needed a turnover to stay in the game. It seemed as if the Panthers wish would be granted when Parks lost the ball on a run, but he was ruled down on the play. A missed opportunity for the Panthers would result in another score for the Cougars, as Parks eventually finished the drive with a touchdown run from 22 yards out.

“We [were] shooting ourselves in the foot,” Gilley said. “We missed a couple blocks [and] weren’t just all together as a unit.”

Junior Cole Gilley rushes up the middle looking to find the end zone. The Panthers were held scoreless through the first three quarters, but their backfield eventually come through with three scores late in the fourth.

Aelise Gagliano
Junior Cole Gilley rushes up the middle looking to find the end zone. The Panthers were held scoreless through the first three quarters, but their backfield eventually come through with three scores late in the fourth.

Following the score, the Panthers had a long, 10-play drive, but it resulted in their third punt of the game. Newnan didn’t ease off of the gas as Satterwhite capped off a four-play drive with a 59-yard touchdown scramble. In the third quarter alone, Newnan gained 165 yards on the ground. Down 28-0, the Panthers’ hopes of winning were dwindling going into the final quarter of play.

“[Newnan] is a big school,” Phillips said. “They were a little physically better than us, but we made some mistakes.”

To start the fourth, the Panther defense seemed to figure things out and forced a punt. The offense then started picking up first down after first down on the way to the Panthers’ first score of the night. Gilley found the endzone on a seven-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 28-7.

The next Cougar drive only lasted one play, as the Panther defense forced a much needed fumble, and took over at Newnan’s 21 yard line. Four plays later, junior Mitch Prowant scored on a six-yard rush, and the Panthers started roaring back.

“One big play just happened,” Brown said. “Everyone just tagged along and we started playing together.”

After cutting the deficit to 28-14, the Panthers lined up for an onside kick. Sophomore Michael Lantz kicked the ball toward the Panther sideline, and it bounced off a Cougar and into the hands of the Panthers. They eased their way down the field and on the sixth play of the drive Gilley broke off a 42-yard rushing touchdown to cut the lead to 28-21.

However, the Panthers only had two timeouts remaining and had to watch Newnan kneel the clock out. They fell to the Cougars but not without putting up a fight. Gilley finished with 14 carries for 131 yards and two scores, and Brown ran the ball 17 times for 83 yards.

“[Playing Newnan] is good to get ready for the season,” Gilley said. “It’s a lot more competition to get ready for when the games really count.”

The Panthers look to improve their record to 1-1 at home on Friday against Northgate. Last year, the Vikings ended the Panthers’ perfect season, beating them 21-7 in the last game before the post-season. The Panthers will be looking for revenge starting at 7:30 p.m.