(Carrollton, GA) — The Heard County Braves closed out the non-region schedule of games with a 33-14 loss at Central of Carrollton Friday night.
A trio of special teams plays were key to the Lions first win over the Braves since 1999.
The Braves had won three straight since the series was renewed in 2016 and now lead the overall series 5-3. The loss moves the Braves’ record to 0-4 for the first time since 2001 — the year before Coach Tim Barron’s arrival in Franklin.
Despite the slow start, the young and rebuilding Braves still hope to have a strong showing in Region 5-AA and once again make the post-season. The Braves have reached the state playoffs for 14 straight years under Coach Barron.
The Brave offense got off to a tremendous start in Friday’s game with a long touchdown drive to open the game. The majority of the drive featured running plays behind the starting offensive line consisting of senior Matt Brown, juniors Anthony Graley and Drew Cornelius, and sophomores Jackson Akins and Isaac Walls.
The drive led by starting quarterback Leroy Marsh saw the Braves eat up over half of the first quarter clock and was capped off by an 11-yard TD run from junior tailback Ashton Bonner.
The PAT from James Newell made it 7-0 but that lead would not last very long as the Lions would come up with the first of two back-breaking special teams plays of the night on an ensuing 80-yard kickoff return to knot the score at 7-7.
The Braves next offensive series would end up in another big special teams play by the Lions — a blocked 39-yard field goal try from Newell.
The Brave defense had some nice moments in the game including big stops for losses by seniors Qua Thornton and Will Finch. The Lions scored twice in the second quarter to take a 20-7 lead into the locker room although a deep pass from Marsh to Jake Harrod nearly garnered the Braves some points with just seconds to play in the half.
Harrod hauled in two long receptions in the game for a total of 88 yards. The Braves came out strong in the second half after the defense forced a fumble on the first drive of the third quarter.
Senior Jai Wright would score on a 14-yard run to close the gap to 20-14. Wright had 54 yards rushing on 13 carries while Bonner ran for 56 yards on eight touches. Micaiah Austin ran for 45 yards on just five carries and hauled down an interception late in the game on defense.
O’Neal completed three passes for 54 yards. The total yardage was again close with Central out-gaining the Braves 285 to 255.
The Brave defense would come up with another big stop before a muffed punt would give the Lions great field position that eventually led to another score, while the Braves would not find the end zone again.
Head coach Tim Barron says mistakes were again crucial in the loss, but knows his squad gets a fresh start with the first region contest coming up this week.
“I thought we played hard and with good energy,” said Barron after the game. “I thought that this was the first time we’ve played four quarters, but the mistakes just killed us. You can’t give up the big play on kickoff. You can’t fumble the punt return. You can’t turn the football over. You know, if we take care of those things then it’s a much closer ball game.”
The Braves battle Spencer at Kinnett Stadium in Columbus this Thursday with a special start time of 7:00 PM.