It was a special night for everything involved with Central High School Friday night with one small exception: a little something called a football game.
Central welcomed some of Chattanooga's biggest legends into its inaugural Hall of Fame class, crowned a homecoming queen and had one of its biggest crowds in many years, but the Brainerd Panthers were spoilers, edging the Purple Pounders 28-26 in what may well have been a playoff elimination game.
"When we got here and saw that crowd and knew it would be a hostile environment, I told the kids we might as well start digging because that was a 14-point advantage for them," said Brainerd coach Brian Gwyn. "This was a huge win for us."
If so, the Panthers (2-6, 2-2) got all of that back with a 14-point outburst in the game's first 10 minutes. Ladaquis Word hit Sam Caffey for a 46-yard pass on the game's second play after an ill-advised onside-kick attempt by Central to open the game.
Then after holding the Pounders on a fourth-down try, Brainerd went 71 yards on 10 plays with Caffey hitting Tevin Walker for an 11-yard score. Brainerd made it 20-0 after another fourth-down stop it converted into a 57-yard, 11-play drive. Caffey kept it from the 1 for the score.
"We treated it like a heavyweight fight," Gwyn said. "We wanted to win as many rounds as possible early on, just in case it came down to a scorecard decision."
The Pounders had much going their way coming in thanks to a forfeited win from Tyner that gave them a 6-AA league win, but unfortunately Central has had trouble on its home turf. In fact, the Pounders have won only two home games in John Allen's three-year tenure as coach.
Central (3-4, 1-3) did give the boisterous crowd a little energy thanks to a stingy second-half run defense keyed by Caleb Morgan and a gutsy 27-carry, 180-yard rushing performance from Sean Montgomery. Montgomery scored three TDs to pull Central even at 20-20, but Brainerd answered quickly with a 76-yard tipped pass from Word to Kaylen Stewart.
The Pounders were offside on the point-after attempt, so Brainerd chose to go for two and Caffey was the man, sliding in untouched for a 28-20 lead. Central got to within 28-26 and had a chance for a go-ahead score, but a fumble recovered by Brainerd's Sederic Jordan at the Panthers' 30 thwarted the drive.
Brainerd twice converted third-down plays and ran out the clock for the win. After being outgained 224-90 in the first half, Central held Brainerd to 16 rushing yards in the second half, but the Pounders secondary was open for business. Brainerd was 9-of-14 on passing for 231 yards.
Stewart had four catches for 121 yards and Caffey had three for 79. Marcus McMillan had 69 yards on 23 carries.
"This is a big win for our program. It keeps our hopes alive for that playoff spot. The kids came up big when they had to," Gwyn said.
Contact James Beach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.
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(Coaches are invited to make nominations. Send an e-mail to Ward Gossett at email@example.com by 6 p.m. each Saturday.)
Forgive first-year Brainerd High School football coach Brian Gwyn if he appeared just as winded as his team Friday night ...
(Coaches are invited to make nominations. Send an email to Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org by 6 p.m. each Saturday.)