HOMER – Banks County’s defense was up to the task Friday night against the high-powered Union County offense. However, three turnovers, two in Panther territory ended any chance of an upset.
The Leopard defense held Union County’s offense to 36 points below its season average in the 14-7 defeat. The Banks County offense fumbled twice and tossed an interception. Without the win, head coach Jay Reid wasn’t pleased despite his defense's best effort.
“They’ve got a good offense, I don’t think anyone’s held them to 14 points in quite some time,” Reid said. “That’s nothing to really hang our hat on. We want to win the ball game, but we’ve got to capitalize on certain situations.”
One fumble ended a 67-yard drive at the Panthers’ 13-yard line. The interception followed a successful onsides kick after a Banks County (3-4, 2-2 Region 8-AA) touchdown, which cut the score to 14-7 with 8:51 remaining on the clock. The Leopards scored on a 68-yard pass from Bowen Roberts to Erwin Durmic. Durmic caught the pass in tight coverage, broke a tackle and ran unimpeded into the end zone.
The defense highlighted its night with an interception and a fourth down stop in the first quarter, and a defensive stand going into halftime. It also prevented Union County from scoring after turnovers.
Union County started the game with a 67-yard passing touchdown from Pierson Allison less than a minute into regulation, taking an early 7-0 lead. A pair of Banks County personal fouls assisted the Panthers on its next possession, but the Leopards responded to the penalties with an interception at its 5-yard line.
Before the first quarter ended, Union County went on another long drive, helped by another Banks County personal foul. Again, the defense responded, this time with a near interception on fourth down, forcing a turnover on downs at the Leopards’ 18-yard line
After the offense gave Union County possession at its 13-yard line, the Panthers cruised to the Leopards’ 13-yard line with less than 30 seconds until halftime. A furious pass rush produced two sacks, backing the Panthers to the Leopards’ 21-yard line and forcing Allison to throw a prayer at the buzzer, which his receiver couldn’t handle, sending the game to halftime still 7-0.
“We are a resilient bunch,” Reid said. “We overcome those things. In the past, penalties get us behind the chains, and we don’t have a chance. We wouldn’t work ourselves ahead of the chains. You can see the resiliency in this bunch, when that kind of stuff happens, they turn around and go back to work.
“Defensively, if we have a turnover, our kids don’t lay down. They come out and play hard, I can’t say enough of them. I love them to death.”
The Leopard defense finally snapped in the third quarter, giving up an 80-yard touchdown drive, ending with a short pass by Allison to extend the lead to 14-0.
Banks County fumbled near midfield on its next possession, but the defense bailed the offense out and forced a punt, which rolled out of bounds at the Leopards’ 6-yard line. A few plays and a quarter change later, Roberts and Durmic connected on their 68-yard touchdown.
“That comes along with our power running game,” Reid said. “We work to set those kinds of things up. When we see that we’ve got something, we pull the trigger. Great play by Durmic, Roberts and the offensive line for protecting.”
Banks County had two chances late to score, starting one drive at its own 12-yard line with 2:25 remaining on the clock. Roberts tossed one first down pass, but the drive stalled soon after.
Reid had timeouts saved to keep Union County from killing the clock. Instead of risking a blocked punt, the Panthers let Banks County take over near midfield with six seconds left. Roberts’ first pass was dropped and he never released the second one. He scrambled and pitched the ball to Jonathan Moon who was tackled at the 33-yard line.
“Hats off to them, they’ve got a good ball club,” Reid said. “They’ve established themselves for the last 10 years. They’re ahead of us in that regard, but we’ve come a long way in a short time. I’m proud of our kids.
“I harp on the same things (penalties and turnovers) every week, and we’ve done things to improve them. In the second half, we cleaned it up a little bit, and I think that showed.”
The turnovers overshadowed a solid night by the Banks County offense. The Leopards outgained the Panthers 335 yards to 279. Moon carried the ball 22 times for 87 yards. Sawyer Pace had five carries for 83 yards. The Leopards finished with 224 rushing yards. Roberts completed five passes for 111 yards.