July 24, 2021

Braves upend Blue Devils at Staples Stadium

Brave QB Maurice Fench takes the snap from center A.J. Rogers in Friday night’s 35-20 win over Manchester at Staples Stadium (Photo: Jeff Napier)

(Franklin, GA) — The Heard County Braves moved to 3-0 on the regular season at Staples Stadium Friday night where they upended the visiting Manchester Blue Devils by a final score of 35-20.

A dominant first half propelled the Braves to the win as everything seemed to go right for the home team in the first 24 minutes of action. The Braves led at one point 35-0 before the Devils bounced back with three straight scores.

In celebration of his birthday, junior Brave quarterback Maurice Fench had his biggest night to date as a Brave completing 11 of his 18 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns to lead the way.

After missing most of his sophomore season with an injury, Brave coaches have spoken highly this fall of Fench’s hard work and dedication in the weight room during the offseason.

One of Fench’s TD passes was delivered to senior receiver Leroy Marsh. The Braves QB from 2019 caught two passes for a total of 61 yards and is already proving to be a key part of the receiving corps in 2020.

Ashton Bonner continued to shine in both the running and the passing games as he caught two passes for 54 yards including a 45-yard TD grab from Fench.

The Braves had a total of four receiver haul in multiple catches on the night including junior Isaiah “Ike” O’Neal who had three catches for 55 yards and highly touted freshman Jonathan Echols who had three nice catches for 63 yards.

In the rushing attack, it was senior Omar Jackson leading the way with 88 yards gained on 18 touches. Jackson will be an important in the backfield for the Braves with the announcement this week that star running back Alex Boyd would need to undergo knee surgery and miss the remainder of his senior season.

Sophomore fullback Tyler Lasseter punched it across the goal line in the first half for his first career touchdown. Lasseter was crucial in many aspects of Friday’s game including making some big stops on special teams.

Senior kicker James Newell was a perfect 5 for 5 on his PAT attempts in the game.

Defensively, the Braves had a coupe of key takeaways in the form of interceptions from Bonner and Echols.

The Braves defense held the Devils to just 19 total yards with the score 35-0 before the home team substituted some younger players into the game to help them gain experience under the Friday night lights.

In total yards for the game, the Braves outgained the Devils 344-329.

The Braves offense was fueled once again up front by one of the biggest offensive lines in Heard County history. Seniors Anthony Graley and Drew Cornelius along with juniors Jackson Akins, Isaac Walls, and Andrew Rogers average over 270 pounds each.

A large crowd of Braves fans also witnessed the debut of one of the top college football prospects in the nation — Chief Borders — a senior committed to attend Florida University with former Brave Emory Jones next season.

Being declared eligible prior to the game, the recent transfer to Heard saw significant time at linebacker and receiver for the Braves and made a couple of huge stops on defense that sent the Brave Nation fans into a frenzy.

Head coach Tim Barron was very pleased with the first half play, but knows his team needs to work on maintaining energy and execution though four quarters going forward.

“It was like watching two different football teams play. I’m super proud of the energy and the way we came out and executed in all phases of the game in the first half,” Barron stated after the game.

“But in the second half, we got tired and didn’t focus or execute and it showed. We ended up being in a dog fight and we couldn’t close them out. A big part of that Manchester has a dang good football team. We came out on fire and everything was going our way but then I think in the second half our mindset went to thinking it was just going to happen but it don’t work that way. Again I think part of it is being out of shape and not having the depth — we’ve got to grow and we’ve got to be better.”

The Braves had a significant knee injury to one of the most popular players on the team — senior Joseph Sanchez who went down with a severe knee injury during a special team play.

At just 5’5″ and 130 pounds, Sanchez has worked very hard to earn some special teams time for the Braves in his senior season and to see him  go down was tough to watch for the Braves coaching staff especially.

“You watch Sanchez on special teams and you know he’s not real big, but every week you watch him make a play here and play there and you know that it is just all heart and effort,” says Barron. “We hope and pray his injury is not as bad as it looks.”

The Braves (3-0) will be back at Staples Stadium this Friday night to host Darlington, a private school from Class A.

In other games involving Region 5-AA schools, Callaway defeated Hardaway 17-6, Haralson County defeated Bowdon 21-10, Temple fell to Heritage 14-6, and Bremen was shocked at Pepperell Saturday losing 30-8.

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