Brainerd struck quickly for two touchdowns at the beginning of Thursday's District 6-AA high school football game at Brainerd, but not as quickly as Red Bank struck for two late in the first half.
Ultimately the Panthers' scores were their only ones while the visiting Lions rolled up plenty more on the way to a 36-15 victory.
A fumble by Red Bank on the opening kickoff was recovered by Brainerd's Ashante McGruder, and the first play afterward Trey Davenport ran 27 yards for a touchdown. A tackle for loss by the Panthers' Sedric Jordan foiled a fourth-and-1, and Brainerd went 45 yards in five plays. Quarterback Sam Caffey covered the last 21 yards and although LaTony Word mishandled the extra-point snap, he ran for the conversion and a 15-0 lead.
The Lions got a 43-yard touchdown pass from Hagen Wilkey to Quan Springs on their next possession, but Red Bank coach E.K. Slaughter thought the turning point was the tying touchdown and conversion run, both by Wilkey with 6:52 to go in the half, at the end of an 83-yard march.
Then came the Lions' flurry of two touchdowns in 20 seconds. After Wilkey scored the tie-breaking touchdown from the 3, Red Bank's Ellias Baker made an interception on the next play from scrimmage, which set up Wilkey's 19-yard scoring pass to Chris Tucker.
The only score in the second half was Wilkey's 9-yarder to Tucker on a possession in which two touchdowns were called back by penalties.
"I think it's a testament to our kids to be down 15-0 and come back and score 36 straight points," Slaughter said. "We actually scored 52 straight when you count we scored about four times on one drive."
Both teams were plagued by fouls. Red Bank (3-4, 3-1) was penalized 15 times for 112 yards and Brainerd (1-6, 0-4) was flagged 13 times for 94 yards.
"Penalties are what hurt us," Brainerd coach Stanley Jackson said. "That's been our Achilles' heel all year long. We move the ball well but we can't seem to finish the drill.
"In other words, we're getting the check but we seem to lose it before we can cash it. Every time we start moving the ball it seems like we get a penalty, and then another. It's hard to look in the playbook and find something for first-and-20."
The Lions' Darrius Akridge was the top ground-gainer with 113 yards on 21 carries.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.