GETTING to the postseason for the first time in 20 years was one thing for Jackson County. Staying in the postseason would be quite another.
The visiting Panthers fell behind top-seed Cartersville 28-0 in the first half Friday and couldn’t dig out of that hole in a 56-21 loss to the Purple Hurricanes at Weinmann Stadium. Click here for photos.
“I was proud of them,” Jackson County coach Benji Harrison said. “I thought offensively we moved the ball. We didn’t finish a couple of drives but I thought we did what we thought we had to do to win. We moved the ball effectively, but had a few miscues here and there. But the bottom line is we lost to a really good football team.”
Daivon Ledford scored all three of the Panthers’ touchdowns in his final high school game.
As for Cartersville, quarterback Brooks Barden threw six touchdown passes — two of which went to T.L. Ford – as the Purple Hurricanes won their 11th-straight game.
Barden also threw touchdown passes to Josh Cooper, Mark Quattlebaum, Haynes Linn and Gordon Gray.
After falling behind by four touchdowns in the second quarter, Jackson County settled down and cut the lead to 35-14 at halftime.
But the Panthers came up empty on a third-quarter march inside Cartersville’s five-yard line when a pass on fourth-and-five to Xavier Harper was broken up.
“We throw the ball to our best player and, you know, everybody on our sidelines and our stands thought he got mugged and that it should have been a pass interference,” Panther quarterback Kyle Daniel said. “Bottom line, it wasn’t.”
Then early in the fourth quarter, Jackson County drove to the Purple Hurricane one before fumbling the ball away.
“It was a game of missed opportunities, I think, for us,” Daniel said.
Barden threw a touchdown pass to Ford with 8:27 left to increase the Purple Hurricanes’ lead to 42-14 and effectively put the game out of reach.
Ledford did manage a one-yard scoring run with 6:19 to give himself the hat trick for the night.
Barden threw his sixth touchdown of the night to Gray to put the Purple Hurricanes up 49-21. Then in the final minutes, Cartersville’s Kobie Whitfield stepped in front of a pass and took it 70 yards for a touchdown.
Jackson County was able to move the ball on the Purple Hurricanes throughout the night, and the 21 points the Panthers scored was the second-most Cartersville has allowed this season.
“That’s a really good defense,” Daniel said. “For us to move the ball up and own on them like we did, I think that says a lot for our team.”
Though Jackson County couldn’t pull off what would have been a major upset, these Panthers will be remembered fondly for becoming only the fourth team in the school’s history to reach the postseason.
“When we look back at our (senior) group, when we were in seventh grade we could tell that we were a pretty solid group,” Daniel said. “We talked about it back then — wanting to be the group that changed it. We were able to do that.”
Harrison said this season will go down as best football experiences.
“To come to a team that people said ‘we couldn’t,’ and I think we proved we can, it’s just really good — and not for me,” he said. “Just for those kids that had the years of not having as much success as they would like to and the community, I think this season does nothing but generate for next season.”
Harrison expressed his gratitude toward this senior class, which leaves with a record of 17-24, one of the better four-year marks in Panther history.
“I can’t say enough about our seniors,” Harrison said. “They were the reason we were here and they bought into everything we tried to sell to them this year. I couldn’t be more proud of them. Like I said, a couple plays here and there, we make this game interesting.”
Harrison and his remaining players will soon begin work on next year having already broken the school’s 20-year playoff drought, but this year’s success was “huge,” Harrison said.
“To make the playoffs just says a lot about our kids and their belief in what we were able to do,” Harrison said. “And we’ve got a good group of football players. I think the young kids really have to learn from those guys (the seniors). They set the standard and hopefully this class, the 2012 football team, will be the ones remembered for turning this thing around.”