After a wild, back-and-forth second half in which both offenses provided numerous big plays, it was a late stand by McMinn Central's defense that helped secure a 26-22 upset win at Region 3-3A foe Brainerd on Thursday night.
An otherwise impressive regular season ended in disappointment for the Panthers, who will find out Friday night just how costly the loss is.
Had Brainerd (7-4, 3-2) rallied for the win, it would have secured second place in the region and a home game in the first round of the playoffs. Instead, the Panthers must await the outcome of Friday night's Red Bank at Loudon game — a showdown of top-five state-ranked teams with the region title going to the winner.
If Loudon wins, then Brainerd would finish second, due to a forfeit win over Red Bank earlier this season, and the Lions would be third. However, a win by the Lions would not only give them the region title and move Loudon to second, it would also send Brainerd to third and force the Panthers to travel in next week's first round.
Although both teams rely heavily on the ground game, McMinn Central and Brainerd scored their first touchdowns through the air Thursday. The Chargers (3-7, 1-4) struck first, held a 7-6 halftime lead and pushed their advantage to 14-6 on a Jace Derrick 15-yard scoring run midway through the third quarter.
Brainerd countered with an 11-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by Xiyeer Lattimore's 2-yard touchdown run and his 2-point run to tie the game. The Chargers answered with two quick touchdowns, including a short run by Derrick with less than five minutes remaining.
The Panthers closed within four with just more than three minutes left when Lattimore hit Jaylyn Dupree on a 52-yard touchdown pass — converting on fourth-and-18 — and again added the conversion run.
But McMinn Central held Brainerd on fourth down at the Chargers' 31 with just more than a minute remaining and was able to run out the clock and earn its first win over a 3A opponent since 2016.