In a turnover-filled night for both Jackson County and Madison County, the Panthers’ give-aways proved to be the most damaging.
Jackson County turned the ball over four times in the second half — the most disastrous of which resulted in a 45-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Tyler Gary for the decisive score — in a 27-21 loss to the visiting Red Raiders Friday.
“We didn’t come out with enough focus in the second half,” Jackson County coach Benji Harrison said. “We made too many mental mistakes, and obviously we turned the ball over too much. When you do that against a good football team, you’re not going to win. We’ll learn from that. One game does not define us.”
All totaled, the Panthers turned the ball over five times on the night in falling to 0-11 all-time against Madison County, which gave the ball away four times itself. The Red Raiders scored 20 points off Jackson County turnovers.
Harrison did point out that he was proud of the team’s defensive effort.
“I’m proud of our defense,” Harrison said. “Our defense kept bailing us out, and kept getting stuff going and we would make a mistake.”
The Panthers led 21-7 at intermission with 21 unanswered points to close the first half and were seemingly in control of the game.
Jorge Monzon picked up an Antonio Strickland fumble on a punt return and sprinted the remaining 40 yards for Jackson County’s first touchdown, and quarterback Jacob Lewis and tailback Malik Tuck added rushing touchdowns of five yards and one yard, respectively, in the second quarter.
Strickland closed the first half by blocking a 27-yard field goal attempt from Madison County’s Levi Larkins. Strickland’s first half included two interceptions and a 30-yard reception in the second quarter that set up Tuck’s one-yard touchdown.
But whatever momentum Jackson County gained vaporized after halftime when Panther turnovers on their first two offensive possessions led to two Madison County touchdowns and a tie game at 21.
Jackson County then missed a field goal midway through the fourth quarter and turned the ball over again with an interception with 4:51 left.
Still, the Panthers had another chance late when they drove to the Red Raider 44, but Madison County’s defense caught Lewis behind the line of scrimmage on a third down play and forced the ball out of his grasp. Gary, a defensive lineman, picked up the loose football and raced to the end zone for the winning score with 1:32 left.
The Panthers will look to make amends next week when they host White County. Harrison said his team "can’t let one loss turn into two."
“Our kids won’t be shaken,” Harrison said. “I know this group pretty good. They’ll still have confidence. They know what we’re capable of doing.”
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