January 23, 2022

Braves ranked No. 6 after downing unbeaten Tigers

(Franklin, GA) — The Heard County Braves outlasted the Darlington Tigers in a battle of unbeatens at Staples Stadium in Franklin Friday night.

The Braves held on for the 35-30 win after converting a 4th and 7 with just over a minute to go in the game to seal the win.

Junior Brave quarterback Maurice Fench found Chief Borders across the middle and the home team was able to run out the clock on the Tigers who outscored the Braves 17-7 in the second half.

Brave coach Tim Barron said the choice to go for it on the game-deciding fourth down was not an easy one.

“We were looking at the fact they didn’t have any timeouts left and we saw a risk if we punted and if it got into the end zone we are really only gaining 20 yards so we thought the reward of converting it was greater than the risks,” said Barron after the game.

The game was tied at 7-7 after the first quarter, and the Tigers took a 13-7 lead early in the second quarter on a 19-yard TD scamper by Will Bagby. The PAT was blocked by the Braves.

The biggest turning point in the contest came late in the second quarter when the Braves scored three times with under two minutes to play in the half.

Following a short Fench TD on the quarterback keeper, the Braves would come up with a fumble recovery by defensive end Nathan McClellan that would lead to another 12 yard score from Fench.

Sophomore Brave defensive end Nathan McClellan comes up with a fumble recovery late in the first half during Friday night’s 35-30 win over Darlington. (Photo: Jeff Napier)

The Braves lead 21-13 with just 26.5 seconds to play in the half when Cedric Ware would scoop up another fumble and rumble all the way down to the Tiger 10 with just 7.6 to play.

Fench connected with Leroy Marsh on the last play of the half to give the home team the 28-13 lead as the two teams went to the locker room.

Barron says the call by his offensive coordinator Randall Curbow just before the half was huge.

“Randall made a great call in that first half to go ahead and take a shot with just five seconds left. He thought that we could get the play off in time and still have a chance for a field goal if we didn’t make it — and Leroy Marsh made a great adjustment to bring that ball down in the end zone.”

The Tigers opened the second half with a quick scoring drive that was capped off by Harrison Allen’s second score of the night to close the gap to 28-20.

After the two teams exchanged turnovers, the Tigers converted a short field goal to cut the Brave lead to 28-23 entering the final quarter of play.

The teams exchanged touchdowns in the fourth quarter resulting in the 35-30 win for Heard County.

The Braves final score gain came courtesy of another run by Fench while the Tiger TD came on a throwback pass to the QB.

Fench had a stellar night in leading the Braves to a fourth consecutive win to open the season. He proved to be highly effective dual threat accounting for a part in all five Brave TD’s.

On the ground he rushed for 67 yards on eight carries with three scores and through the air he completed seven of his 13 attempts for 104 yards and two scores.

Isaiah O’Neal caught a 29-yard TD pass from Fench. Freshman Jonathan Echols had two important catches for a total of 38 yards on the night.

One of the biggest stories of the night was the return of senior tailback Tae Gray who missed all of last season and the first three games of this year with injuries.

Gray looked strong all night long rushing for 164 yards on 25 touches. Gray could be a huge factor in helping the squad to replace injured senior back Alex Boyd who is likely to miss the remainder of the season.

“We got the breaks in the first half tonight and they did some things to help us and in the second half we did the same thing to help them and that’s how you end up with such a tight game coming down to the wire,” added Barron.

“I’m just super proud of these guys for finding ways to win — none of our wins have been pretty, but we have found ways to get it done. That was a dang good football team we played tonight and one of the best coaching staffs in the state — their kids execute very well and make it tough for you.”

Heard County (4-0) will travel to Cedartown this Friday night for another non-region tilt versus the Bulldogs.

Cedartown defeated New Manchester 24-0 Friday night.

The Bulldogs will be much stronger than their 1-2 record might indicate as both losses came to very high quality programs in Calhoun and Rockmart. Rockmart defeated the Bulldogs 21-10 in game one and Calhoun edged the Bulldogs 14-7 in week two.

Friday night’s win was Coach Barron’s 150th win in his 19th year as Heard County head coach.

The latest rankings issued by the AJC Sunday have the Braves ranked at No. 6 in Class AA. Region rival Callaway is ranked at No. 1 and another Region 5-AA foe Haralson County is ranked at No. 10 this week.

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