It was a special night for everything involved with Central High School Friday night with one small exception: a little something called a football game.
Central welcomed some of Chattanooga's biggest legends into its inaugural Hall of Fame class, crowned a homecoming queen and had one of its biggest crowds in many years, but the Brainerd Panthers were spoilers, edging the Purple Pounders 28-26 in what may well have been a playoff elimination game.
"When we got here and saw that crowd and knew it would be a hostile environment, I told the kids we might as well start digging because that was a 14-point advantage for them," said Brainerd coach Brian Gwyn. "This was a huge win for us."
If so, the Panthers (2-6, 2-2) got all of that back with a 14-point outburst in the game's first 10 minutes. Ladaquis Word hit Sam Caffey for a 46-yard pass on the game's second play after an ill-advised onside-kick attempt by Central to open the game.
Then after holding the Pounders on a fourth-down try, Brainerd went 71 yards on 10 plays with Caffey hitting Tevin Walker for an 11-yard score. Brainerd made it 20-0 after another fourth-down stop it converted into a 57-yard, 11-play drive. Caffey kept it from the 1 for the score.
"We treated it like a heavyweight fight," Gwyn said. "We wanted to win as many rounds as possible early on, just in case it came down to a scorecard decision."
The Pounders had much going their way coming in thanks to a forfeited win from Tyner that gave them a 6-AA league win, but unfortunately Central has had trouble on its home turf. In fact, the Pounders have won only two home games in John Allen's three-year tenure as coach.
Central (3-4, 1-3) did give the boisterous crowd a little energy thanks to a stingy second-half run defense keyed by Caleb Morgan and a gutsy 27-carry, 180-yard rushing performance from Sean Montgomery. Montgomery scored three TDs to pull Central even at 20-20, but Brainerd answered quickly with a 76-yard tipped pass from Word to Kaylen Stewart.
The Pounders were offside on the point-after attempt, so Brainerd chose to go for two and Caffey was the man, sliding in untouched for a 28-20 lead. Central got to within 28-26 and had a chance for a go-ahead score, but a fumble recovered by Brainerd's Sederic Jordan at the Panthers' 30 thwarted the drive.
Brainerd twice converted third-down plays and ran out the clock for the win. After being outgained 224-90 in the first half, Central held Brainerd to 16 rushing yards in the second half, but the Pounders secondary was open for business. Brainerd was 9-of-14 on passing for 231 yards.
Stewart had four catches for 121 yards and Caffey had three for 79. Marcus McMillan had 69 yards on 23 carries.
"This is a big win for our program. It keeps our hopes alive for that playoff spot. The kids came up big when they had to," Gwyn said.
Contact James Beach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.