(Macon, GA) — Coach Tim Barron and the 2014 edition of the varsity Braves kicked off the regular season Saturday night with a 43-27 loss to the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricanes at Anderson Field on the campus of Mercer University as part of the inaugural North-South Kickoff Classic.
The Braves and Purple Hurricanes kicked off at 8:27 p.m. in the night cap of the doubleheader with a large number of fans in attendance representing both communities. Fans of both teams were treated to an exciting game with lots of momentum swings and big plays.
The Braves defense made the first big statement of the contest stopping the Hurricanes on their first drive with a takeaway on a fumble by Diamond Delgado.
Two plays later, senior running back Duranta Dunson picked up right where he left off in 2013 as he carried it in from 29 yards away to give the Braves an early 7-0 lead. On the Hurricanes next drive the Braves defense got another big stop and forced a punt.
The Braves overcame several penalties on their next drive before coming up short with a missed field goal.
Fitzgerald tied the game early in the second quarter after taking over deep in Braves territory following an errant punt and tied the game at 7-7.
It did not take the Braves long to answer, however, as on the next drive freshman quarterback Emory Jones connected on a the first touchdown pass of his high school career, a short pass taken 79 yards to pay dirt by senior tight end Elijah Toney.
Hurricane quarterback Gerald Morgan evened the game once again at 14-14 with a 34-yard TD pass to trey Graham on a 4th down play.
The biggest play of the game came just before the half as the Braves were attempting to punch it in for the go ahead score with just seconds on the clock. Fitz defensive back Daniel Rivera stepped in front of a Jones pass in the end zone and returned it over 100 yards for the score to put the Purple Hurricanes up 21-14 with just five seconds to play in the half.
Early in the second half special teams continued to be an issue for the Braves as a bad punt snap rolled out of the back of the end zone for a Hurricane safety putting the Braves two scores behind.
A Morgan 33-yard TD pass then extended the Hurricane lead to 29-14 with 7:37 to play in the third quarter.
The Braves continued to battle all night long with the Braves offense scoring two more times, first on a short 4th and goal TD pass from Jones to fellow freshman Jaden Moreland and again on a Dunson 49-yard scamper in the fourth quarter but the Hurricanes held on for a 43-27 win. Dunson rushed for 230 yards on 25 carries to lead the Braves.
Depth became an issue on the hot and humid night as the Hurricanes dressed out twice as many players with very few seeing action on both sides of the ball — unlike the Braves who had several key players on the field for almost every play.
Barron felt his squad came away with a lot of positives to build on.
“I think that we improved so much from our two scrimmages to now with our effort and intensity. Obviously we are not where we want to be yet — there were lots of new faces out there having to battle and play against a defense that is going to be one of the top defenses in the state,” Barron said after the game.
“Of course they were getting after our tail no doubt but we did a lot of things to hurt ourselves — but those things are going to happen when you have a young team. What we have to got to see next week is less of that and then the next week after that even less of that… if they mentally keep getting better and physically we can stay healthy and those kind of things — then by the time we get to region play we will be where we need to be. I am awfully excited about how we played tonight that was a dang good football team we saw tonight.”
In the early game on Saturday, Manchester fell to the Charlton County 32-13.
Rematches of both games will be played next season in the second annual classic with the Braves and Hurricanes kicking off at 5:00 p.m. followed by the Blue Devils and Indians in the nightcap.