The guys in blue and gold seem to be on the rise under new coach Ross Couch.
As a result, and for the first time in recent memory, Bradwell Institute knocked off crosstown rival Liberty County High School.
The Tiger defense came up especially big in Bradwell’s 23-7 victory Friday night at Donell Woods Stadium to win the Commissioners Cup. The Panthers had won the last five games against Bradwell.
"Anytime you can open your season with a win it’s a good thing, and when that win is against your cross-town rival it really gives your kids some confidence moving in to region play," Couch said.
After a 30 minute lightening delay, the teams took the field in an equally electric atmosphere. Liberty won the toss, and elected to defer until the second half.
The Tiger offense was unable to muster much, and had to punt it away to a young Panther offense with eight players making their first varsity start.
The Panthers scored on their first play from scrimmage when Cleon Hamilton caught a 78-yard touchdown pass from Dionte Bowen. It looked as if Liberty was going to pick up right where the Panthers’ left off last year, but the game would take a different turn as the inexperienced unit would struggle against a tough Bradwell defense.
Gage Sills was picked off by Tah’Dreque Smith on Liberty’s second possession, but the Tigers were unable to capitalize. The Panthers gave the ball right back when BI recovered a Panther fumble on Liberty’s 30 with 1:31 left in the first quarter. T
he Panthers’ defense stood up and Sisqo Westbrook sacked Vencent Gilbert for a 12 yard loss to end the period.
Liberty defensive end Traveon Freeman then hammered Bradwell’s quarterback, resulting in a fumble recovery by the Panthers, but Liberty couldn’t capitalize on the turnover. Bradwell also struggled to move the ball against a formidable defensive front boasting returning stars Traveon Freeman and Tramel Walthour.
Liberty’s offense took over on their own 20 after a punt.
This time, it was the Tiger defense that gained momentum, when the Panthers bobbled a snap resulting in a sack, and backing Liberty up to their 20 with 9:46 left in the first half. On the next play Bradwell’s KJ Milner grabbed an interception and ran it in for a score, and Kenneth Lochart’s extra point tied the game at 7-7.
The Liberty offense turned the ball over again when BI recovered a fumble on the Panther 32. But Bradwell couldn’t do anything against the stout Panther front, and the Tigers’ were forced to attempt a 42 yard field goal.
The kick was no good, but the slugfest continued as Bradwell’s defense held. The Tigers took over on downs on the BI 45, but the offense was unable to move the ball and both teams entered the locker rooms at the half with the score knotted up 7-7.
As in the first half, early in the second neither team could do much on offense.
Bradwell connected on Lockhart’s 31-yard field goal to stretch the lead to 10-7. The Tiger defense continued to be the highest scoring unit on the field when Bradwell’s Marquise Leach scored on a 40-yard interception return.
The two defenses continued to beat on the opposing offenses for the rest of the game, though Liberty scored on a 1-yard run by Kevin Harris.
The Bradwell defense came up with seventakeaways, including four interceptions.
The Panther defense held the Tigers offense to just 70 yards on 43 plays, all but five on it on the ground. Kris Coleman had 70 yards on 16 carries for the Panthers.
Panther quarterback Gage Sills was 4 of 6 with 25 yards and 2 Interceptions, while Dionte Bowens went 3 of 7 with 96 yards and 1 touchdown.
Cleon Hamilton was the game’s leading receiver with his 78-yard touchdown catch.
Bradwell individual stats were not available, but Bradwell’s new coach said he was proud of the way his team battled.
"After (Liberty coach Kirk Warner) came out with the trick play for a touchdown our kids could have packed it up and given up, but they buckled down and came back harder," Couch said. "That’s the response we’re looking for."
The first-year head coach was also impressed with his staff saying, "our coordinators called a great game against probably the best defensive front we’ll see all year. Coach (Ken) Eldridge had our defense in position to make a play every snap."