It was a glorified practice but one Jackson County coach Billy Kirk wanted to win regardless.
With his team trailing 13-0 at the half of its Friday scrimmage at Athens Christian, Kirk pitched his team’s scripted offensive plan and let his team go in the third quarter. The Panthers responded with two touchdowns in the third quarter to end the varsity portion of the scrimmage and tacked on two touchdowns during the junior varsity segment to win 28-13.
“The first quarter was very scripted, the second quarter was very scripted,” Kirk said. “So what we tried to do was take that script and say ‘throw it in the garbage.’”
The free-of-format Panthers got a five-yard touchdown from running back Dustin Scott with 8:36 left in the third quarter to get on the board and cut the Athens Christian lead to 13-7. Jackson County then flew down the field at the end of the period — and essentially the end of the game for the varsity players — and scored when quarterback Kyle Daniel hit Ben Brissy for a nine-yard scoring strike as time expired to go up 14-13.
For Jackson County, the third quarter was a stark turnaround from the first half during which the Panthers — who threw three interceptions — fell into a two-touchdown hole.
Athens Christian got on the board with a 24-yard touchdown run from quarterback Zach Resop late in the first quarter. The Eagles then added a 13-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter.
But Jackson County responded by recovering a fumble at the start of the third quarter which led to Scott’s touchdown. Following two more defensive stops, Jackson County was able to get the ball back with enough time in the third quarter to drive for the deciding touchdown.
“Our defense was unbelievable in the third quarter,” Kirk said. “Coach Reid does a great job of dialing up defense. Between him and coach (David) Darling, we get their experience. Those guys called up a dang game plan.”
Panther linebacker Andy Williams said the defense talked about attacking after being down 13-0 at the half.
“We were making a lot of tackles, just five yards deep in our laps,” he said. “So we talked about attacking the ball and making plays at the line and we really took that mentality to the whole game.”
Jackson County dominated the pre-determined, junior varsity-only fourth quarter.
Panther fans got their first look at freshman quarterback Jacob Lewis who scampered for a 20-yard score with 6:06 left in the scrimmage. Freshman Jacob Carter then provided a defensive score, scooping a fumble and returning it 15 yards for a touchdown to give the Panthers their final margin of victory.
Kirk said the win, despite being only a scrimmage victory, is something his team will build upon heading into next week’s season opener with Johnson.
“Last year, we were on the losing end of this deal,” Kirk said, referring to last year’s 20-14 scrimmage loss to Athens Christian. “For us, it’s a big momentum thing. It’s a big opportunity for us to use this as a springboard into Johnson.”