Friday night’s game at the newly renovated Olvey Field was supposed to be a momentous occasion for Bradwell Institute players, fans and family members.
The team sported new uniforms, and dedicated the stadium, all while taking on cross-town rival Liberty County High School in the season opener for both schools.
But the Panthers only needed 10 seconds to steal the Tigers’ thunder and eventually go on to win 13-7.
Panther DJ Bratcher took the opening kickoff, made two quick moves and bolted 80 yards for the Panthers’ first touchdown.
“I have to buy him a steak or something,” Panther football coach Kirk Warner said. “I’ll tell you what, that first touchdown, that was huge.”
But they still had four quarters to go.
The Tigers looked good in spots, picking off two Panther passes and recovering a fumble. But BI receivers dropped several passes in the red zone, keeping the boys from getting points on the board.
“I feel like we didn’t play worth a flip,” Tigers coach Jim Walsh said. “We did some bone-head things, and we just have to clean it up. I give credit to Liberty County. They came out and played and got after us, and some of our linemen were confused and we have to get it straight.”
The Panther defense looked solid and pressured Tiger quarterback LaBaron Anthony.
Highly touted Panther Raekwon McMillan stuffed the run in the middle while Taison Walls and Jeremy Caldwell-Fabergas were in on several tackles and teamed up for three sacks. On special teams, Corey Lazenby pressured the Tigers’ punter.
“Our defense played their tails off,” Warner said. “We gave up what I call a fluke fourth down touchdown pass, but other than that we played lights out. We were pounding them and they were getting up slow and that was our game plan.”
Both teams were sloppy when it came to penalties.
The Tigers got on the scoreboard in the second quarter after the Panthers faked the punt on fourth and long but didn’t convert the first down.
The Tigers started on the Panthers’ 25-yard line. BI went to the passing game and Anthony connected with Hubert Anderson to the 19. Anthony then hit Marquise Parker in stride and he scampered into the end zone.
“We were hoping and we were playing to win tonight,” Walsh said. “We started off on the wrong foot with the opening kickoff but we got back in it on a good pass. But we could never establish the run and we were trying to move the ball the best we could. We had a bunch of shots downfield that were catchable balls, we just didn’t catch them.”
The Panthers started Jordan Waters at quarterback, but put in JJ Grant in the second quarter.
Late in the third quarter Grant scrambled for a first down run, Andre Haggray broke open for short runs and a screen pass to Jordan Moody gave the Panthers a third-and-three near midfield. Panther running back Trentice Williams broke open for a big gain to put Liberty inside the Tigers’ 20 yard line.
“JJ is our veteran guy and it was a lot to ask of Jordan to start his first varsity game in front of 6.000-7,000 people,” Warner said. “He did well but we felt like we needed a spark. JJ was our veteran and he came in the second half and gave us that spark. He has game experience over Jordan and it showed.”
Grant ran the ball down to the four yard line. As the game entered the fourth quarter, Grant found a wide open Caldwell-Fabergas in the end zone for the winning touchdown and 13-7 win.
“We were our own worst enemy tonight…I felt after the Wayne scrimmage we were moving in the right direction but we obviously took a step back,” Walsh said. “We will fix it…and we are going to start the process right now.”