HARTWELL — In what has been a disappointing and tough 2014 campaign, the Jackson County Panthers looked to turn their luck around Friday night and put a second “W” in the win column.
The only problem was standing in the way of that goal was one of Region 8-AAA’s best teams, and it wasn’t the Jefferson Dragons.
The Hart County Bulldogs upended the Panthers 43-7 in Hart County.
The Panthers (1-7, 0-4 Region 8-AAA) managed only 180 total yards of offense.
Jackson County senior quarterback Jacob Lewis passed for 154 yards. Sophomore wide receiver Zane Corley hauled in two catches for 59 of Lewis’ 154 yards.
The Bulldogs (7-0, 3-0) were led by senior quarterback Cameron Fouch who passed for 245 yards and four touchdowns, all of which came in the first half.
Hart County junior wide receiver Zach Maldonado caught six passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns.
“We had the start we wanted,” Jackson County head coach Benji Harrison said. “We played the first quarter, we were all even there.
“But then, they are a good football team. We are struggling in some areas right now. So, you compound that and make a few mistakes against a good football team and usually, the end result will be what it was (tonight).”
The Panthers started the game with a three-and-out series on offense, but linebacker Griffin McElvery got the squad on the board first, intercepting Fouch’s first pass attempt of the game and returning it 70 yards to put the Panthers ahead 7-0 with 9:55 left in the first quarter.
That mistake woke the Bulldogs’ offense up as Fouch connected with senior running back Keenan Dillon on a 16-yard touchdown strike to tie the game at 7-7.
Dillon finished the game with 47 yards on the ground and two touchdowns as well.
Two possessions later, Fouch found Maldonado on a 37-yard strike to give the Bulldogs a 14-7 lead with 10:08 left in the second quarter.
After a Sergio Gomez 22-yard field goal extended the lead to 17-7, Dillon struck again, pounding the ball into the end zone from 4 yards away to bump the Bulldogs’ lead to 24-7 with 3:18 left until halftime.
After a quick Panthers’ possession, Fouch needed just one play to cash-in on an opportunity as he found junior running back Trae Stowers for a 25-yard touchdown to push the lead to 30-7.
Fouch added one more score before the half finding Maldonado on a 6-yard pass to put the lead at 36-7 at halftime.
“It’s definitely a job. You have to know where everybody is at and you have got to stay in your responsibility, in your area and do your job,” Harrison said about defending the Bulldogs’ explosive offense.
“We talked about that, if everyone does their job, usually, you will be OK. They (Hart County) made some good individual plays when we felt like we had them covered. But, when you struggle a little bit like we have and we’ve had some bad luck, I think it’s really easy to get your confidence a little bit shattered early. I think that’s what happened. I thought our kids kept fighting.”
After a scoreless third quarter, Dillon ended the Bulldogs’ scoring, finding the end zone for the third time, this one coming on a 5-yard run to put the game at 43-7.
“We threw the pick-six on the first series and got behind 7-0, but our guys really responded well,” Hart County coach William DeVane said. “I mean, 43-unanswered (points), defense played lights out, again.”
Jackson County travels to East Jackson next Friday. Hart County is at undefeated Oconee County.