Coming off a disappointing home loss to Averett, the LaGrange College Panthers were a desperate team heading into last week’s game at Christopher Newport in Virginia.
Already with one setback in the USA South, a loss to Christopher Newport likely would have ended the Panthers’ chances of winning a conference championship.
As LaGrange College defensive back P.G. Standard said, the Panthers went into the game with a “do-or-die attitude.”
The Panthers came out and played their finest game of the season, dominating in all aspects of the game en route to a 20-6 victory over the team that was the consensus pick to win the conference title.
Christopher Newport had won 14 straight conference games, a streak that came to a resounding end thanks to the Panthers, who improved to 2-4 overall, and 2-1 in conference play.
“We put ourselves in a rough spot two weeks ago (with the loss to Averett), but it wasn’t the end,” LaGrange College head coach Todd Mooney said. “That allowed us to refocus pretty quickly, and certainly when you’re playing a very good opponent like Christopher Newport it can get people’s attention.”
LaGrange College went out and took control of the game from the start, intercepting Christopher Newport quarterback Marcus Morrast twice in the game’s opening moments while building a 7-0 lead on a touchdown run from quarterback Ed Russ.
Kent Gibson added a 1-yard touchdown run later in the game, and Will Jeffcoat made a pair of field goals, including a school-record 45-yarder.
Gibson led the Panthers with 120 yards, and Russ added 104 yards on the ground.
Russ also had his most efficient day of the season passing the ball, completing 12-of-20 pass attempts for 105 yards.
The Panthers weren’t too shabby on defense, either, holding Christopher Newport to a shade over 200 yards and no touchdowns.
Christopher Newport’s points came on a pair of field goals.
“We went out there and our guys were focused and determined and they executed about as well as they can,” Mooney said. “And they made their own breaks.”
As satisfying as that victory was, though, it was just one step in the process.
The Panthers still have four conference games remaining, and they may need to win them all to capture the USA South championship and earn the accompanying berth in the NCAA Division III national championship.
“We talked to them about it,” Mooney said. “You’ve got about 24 hours to feel good about what you do, and then it’s time to put it aside, because there’s somebody else you have to take care of.”
First up is today’s game against the Maryville Scots in Tennessee.
Maryville (3-3, 2-1) is one of five teams with one conference loss, and it is coming off back-to-back USA South wins over Greensboro and Methodist.
In last week’s 28-24 win over Methodist, quarterback Evan Pittenger completed 20-of-30 pass attempts for 215 yards with two touchdowns.
Maryville is playing well under first-year head coach Mike Rader, who was an assistant coach at Huntingdon last season.
“They have a new coach in there now, and he has a different mentality, and a good mentality,” Mooney said. “And they have good players. We’ll have to go in there and do a good job with the things we know we need to do.”
Maryville and LaGrange College know each other well.
Since LaGrange College began playing football in 2006, it has played Maryville every season, and now the two teams have moved to the USA South together.
Maryville has won four of the six meetings, although LaGrange College won 13-10 a year ago, one season after Maryville won 20-17 in triple overtime in 2010.
“The games have always been close,” Mooney said. “There was one year where we got them pretty good up there, but for the most part it’s been a dogfight. That’s not going to change.”
After today’s game, LaGrange College will finish its conference schedule with games against Methodist, Ferrum and Greensboro.
Mooney said no one is thinking beyond today’s game, though.
“Since Week 1 of the very first year, it’s one week at a time,” Mooney said. “From our standpoint, that’s exactly true the way this conference is unfolding. You’ve got to treat every opponent as if they’re the defending champion if you want to be there at the end. There’s a lot of good football teams, and a lot of teams with dangerous weapons that can get you.”