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Lack of depth, a long layoff between games and an undefeated opponent led to Brainerd being overmatched at home Friday night in a 40-0 nonregion football loss to Nashville's Pearl Cohn.

The Firebirds (5-0) scored five touchdowns and outgained the Panthers 235-35 in total offense in the first half, and a pass early in the third quarter provided the final touchdown and turned on the running clock with the score at its final margin. Pearl Cohn's Martino Owens was 12-for-18 passing for 179 yards and five touchdowns, and his favorite target was John Roberts, who had four catches for 74 yards and two touchdowns.

It was the first action for the Panthers (7-3) since Oct. 2, with their previous two scheduled games against Signal Mountain and Red Bank called off by the opponents for reasons related to COVID-19. Injuries to Brainerd's top three offensive lineman also worked against coach Tyrus Ward's plans.

"We lost to a better team. I'm not going to blame it on COVID or anything," Ward said. "They're extremely athletic and got after us really fast. We just lacked that depth and tempo that they played with. We're not going to make excuses, but we want to get healthy before this playoff run."

Class 3A's No. 5-ranked Firebirds got after Brainerd on the first drive of the game when they intercepted quarterback Jeremy Ferguson. Owens and Roberts connected for a touchdown four plays later. After blocking a Brainerd punt on the next series, Pearl Cohn boosted its lead to 20-0 three plays later to close out the first quarter.

Touchdown runs from 16 and 7 yards for the Firebirds highlighted the second quarter before a 23-yard connection from Owens to Roberts finished the scoring in the third.

"All these games we're scheduling nonregion are to help us get ready for the playoffs," Ward said. "We know they're tough in the moment, but it's all about being ready for when the playoffs start."

The Panthers close out the regular season next week in a homecoming and Region 3-3A matchup with McMinn Central.

Contact John Mitchell at sports@timesfreepress.com.

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