By John W. PeelerSeptember 4, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga. (Sept. 4, 2013) -- After leading 14-8 at the half, the Chattahoochee County Panthers caught lightning in a bottle Friday in the second half after a 30-minute delay due to lightning, scoring 21 unanswered points in its regular-season opener to beat the Stewart County Knights 35-8 in Lumpkin, Ga.
Following the extended halftime, the Panthers scored points in all three phases of the game in the second half, putting up touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams.
"We came out tense, too tight and a little scared we were going to make a mistake," Panthers Head Coach Russell Morgan said. "Maybe the lightning delay was a good thing. We played a lot more aggressive in the second half."
On its first offensive possession of the second half, Jodie Duke capped off a six-play, 51-yard drive with a 9-yard touchdown run. After the successful extra point from Tyler Walton, the Panthers led 21-8.
The defense turned up the heat on the Knights during its first possession of the second half by not allowing a first down and pressured the Knights' punter into mishandling the snap. Justin Burks made the tackle at the Knights' 14-yard line, putting the Panthers in scoring position, but the Panthers' offense turned the ball over two plays later at the Knights' 1-yard line on a fumble during the center-quarterback exchange.
The Panthers' defense stood its ground again, holding the Knights without a first down and forced the Knights into punt formation.
Again, the Panther special teams rose to the occasion and applied pressure to the Knights punter, who was only able to get off a punt of 6 yards. Chris Spears fielded the punt at the Knights 10-yard line and returned it for the second Panthers score of the half. Following a successful PAT, the Panthers led 28-8.
Bad luck struck the Knights for the third time in the third quarter when a backward pass was picked up by the Panthers' Dexter Jordan and returned 9 yards, setting up the Panthers' offense on the Stewart County 31-yard line.
Sophomore quarterback Christian Afoa, who appeared more poised in the second half, led the Panthers methodically down the field on a five-play, 31-yard drive culminating in a 2-yard touchdown pass to Spears. With the successful PAT, the Panthers extended its lead to 35-8 to end the scoring.
In the first half, Stewart County scored on its opening possession, going on an eight-play, 69-yard drive for a touchdown and a successful 2-point conversion. Chattahoochee County also scored in the first quarter on a Duke 10-yard run and an Afoa quarterback keeper inches from the goal line.
Morgan said the difference in the defensive play of the Panthers from the first half to the second half was more mental than physical.
"In the first half, it was more a step here or a step there," he said. "Our defense wasn't that bad, we were just missing tackles. On their touchdown, we had three different plays that should have been no gain … we just had missed tackles.
"(In the second half) we didn't really make any adjustments, we just corrected what we were doing wrong. But we did a good job on making plays in the second half."
Morgan said offensively he wanted to start the game passing, but had to rely more on the run in the first half.
"We wanted to start by opening it (the offense) more," he said. "We struggled a little bit … and, of course, we have a young quarterback coming along … and he's going to get better every week … and we had to go back to our ground game and pound it a little bit more. There toward the end, it opened up the pass a little bit more."
Although Morgan said he was happy about the outcome of the game, he said he knows they have to be better next week.
"I've got to give Stewart County a lot of credit," Morgan said. "They're a lot better ball team than they were this time last year. We have to get better in a hurry. Terrell County has a good football team, so we have to correct a lot of mistakes and we still have to work on our passing game."
Chattahoochee County plays in its home opener in Cusseta, Ga., Friday against Terrell County. Game time is 7:30 p.m.