January 16, 2021

Braves headed north after 31-28 playoff win over Panthers

(Franklin, GA) — The Heard County Braves held off a late charge by the Union County Panthers to earn a spot in this week’s round two of the GHSA Class AA State Playoffs.

The Braves scored a 31-28 win over the Panthers Saturday afternoon at Staples Stadium and now face a long road trip to North Georgia to meet the Fannin County Rebels.

Senior Ayden Cannon hauls in one of his 4 receptions Saturday (Photo: Tammy Bailey)

The Rebels mounted a big comeback in their first round contest Saturday night to knock off Pace Academy 28-21, the No. 4 seed from Region 6-AA.

The Rebels trailed 21-7 in the third quarter before bouncing back with three unanswered touchdowns to defeat the private school.

As a result, the No. 7 ranked Rebels advanced to the second round for the first time in 25 years.

The Region 7-AA Champs have only appeared in the second round on that single occasion in 1995 in the 44 year history of their program and will be aiming for more history this week as they look to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time ever.

The more seasoned Brave program will be aiming to reach the quarterfinals for the fourth time in school history and third time under current head coach Tim Barron.

Junior Brave quarterback Maurice Fench had the best passing effort of his career in Saturday’s win completing 14 of his 16 pass attempts for 330 yards and two touchdowns.

The Braves took a 28-7 first half lead before the Panthers struck for a late TD and a field goal to cut the advantage to 28-17 at the half.

The lone score of the game by the Braves in the second half came on a 22-yard field goal by senior James Newell.

A Panther TD and a 2-point conversion cut the Braves lead to 31-28 with 4:55 to play in the game, but the Braves refused to relinquish possession to hold on for the tough first round win.

Senior Ashton Bonner had another nice effort in the Braves backfield with 101 yards rushing on 22 carries. Bonner was also the recipient of one of Fench’s TD passes — a 78-yard strike in the second quarter — Bonner’s third score of the game.

Fench’s other TD pass went to junior Brave receiver Michael Whitten. The 24-yard catch was Whitten’s first career touchdown.

Senior Ayden Cannon caught four passes for 82 yards and fellow senior Leroy Marsh caught two passes for 45 yards. Junior Isaiah O’Neal also had tow catches for a total of 67 yards.

The Braves outgained the Panthers in total yardage 456-288.

Several Braves had big defensive efforts including Bonner, Marsh, Anthony Graley, Chief Borders, Nathan McClellan, and Jackson Akins.

“Right now we are one of the 16 teams left and that is a positive but we made it much harder today than it needed to be,” said Coach Barron after the game. “They (Union County) got after us today and we’ve got to be better if we expect to win again in round two.”

The Braves are scheduled to kickoff at Fannin County High School this Friday at 7:30 PM.

Tickets will be $10 each and available at GoFan.co beginning this Wednesday afternoon. Tickets will also be available (cash only) at the gate.

Several Brave defenders swarm a Panther runner during Saturday afternoon’s 31-28 win at Staples Stadium (Photo: Tammy Bailey)

There will be no restriction on the number of fans at FCHS, but each person must pass a temperature check upon entry.

With a win, the Braves or Rebels would advance to the Class AA quarterfinals to meet either No. 1 ranked Region 1-AA Champion Fitzgerald or Northeast, the No. 2 seed from Region 3-AA.

The Braves would travel to Fitzgerald or face a universal coin flip for homefield advantage versus Northeast.

Stay tuned to HeardCitizen.com for a full second round preview later this week.

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