Maroon Devils put up a fight against Panthers
Coach Neil Blankenship knows his team is young. With a pair of sophomores at the crux of this season’s rendition of the Veer offense, he knows the challenges and learning opportunities will be plentiful. He also knows that while young, this year’s batch has some mettle to it.
Swain County showed its youth early on in Friday night’s home matchup with Franklin. The Maroon Devils received the ball to open the game, went three-and-out, then promptly allowed a 44-yard touchdown hookup between Franklin quarterback Blake Gibson and receiver Bailey Watts, both seniors.
The Swain County offense struggled to get much of anything going in the first half, and the wheels looked to be coming off when Gibson and Watts hooked up again on a 12-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter to push the Franklin lead to 14-0.
The lead was still two touchdowns as the teams headed to the locker rooms at halftime, and Coach Blankenship leaned on his many years of experience to rally his group.
“We had two big coverage errors in the first half, and that’s just coverage stuff and we have to do better with that,” Blankenship said after the game. “We’ve got a young football team right now, so we can’t make those mistakes. We challenged them at halftime to come out and stop Franklin on the first possession of the second half, because they had the ball to start. We said that they could not come out for the second half and allow Franklin to drive down and make it a 21-0 game, and they did exactly that. I’m proud of them for that.”
Unfortunately, the offense was unable to capitalize on the heightened defensive intensity, and the third quarter was effectively reduced to a punting battle. Franklin’s 14-0 lead remained intact as the fourth quarter began.
The Maroon Devils seized momentum back at just the right time. Swain County went to sophomore running back Bryce Sain, who finished the game with 134 yards on 25 carries, broke the point seal with an 8-yard touchdown scamper early in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 14-7.
A Franklin turnover-on-downs soon had the Devils driving again, and sophomore quarterback Damian Lossiah added another Swain County score by punching it in on a keeper from a yard out to tie the score at 14-14 with 4:07 remaining in the game.
Whether it was youth, fatigue, or a combination of the two, Swain County allowed Franklin to respond with a methodical offensive march downfield.
With 45 seconds remaining and the ball on the Swain County 35, Gibson hit receiver Coleman Saunders with a beautiful throw to give him his third passing touchdown of the night and, more importantly, regain the lead for his team.
Down 21-14, the Maroon Devils appeared to still have some hope until Saunders intercepted a Lossiah pass intended for Sain. Franklin drained the clock and the score of 21-14 went final.
“I’m proud of our fight,” Blankenship said after the game. “In the past, we get down 14-0 against a team like Franklin, and we probably would have just let them roll right over us, but I’m proud of how our kids fought. They came out in the second half and tied it up, but then gas got us at the end. We ran out of gas.
“We’ve got so many guys who play both ways and lay it out there, and I think fatigue played into us giving up that pass play there at the end. We were looking for our identity tonight, to see if when somebody hit us in the mouth, would we fight back? I think we answered that question, I think we fought back. It hurt, and I’m glad it hurt because it means they laid it all on there. If it doesn’t hurt after a game like that, it means you didn’t lay it all out there.”
The loss drops the Maroon Devils to 1-3 on the year. They are off next weekend and will use the time to regroup and get ready for a home game against Hayesville on Friday, Sept. 21.