JEFFERSON — Friday night was a battle of two completely different offenses: White County operates by ground, Jackson County by air.
But it was an interception late in the game that proved to be the turning point of the game and propel the Warriors to a 34-26 win at Panthers Stadium.
The Warriors (1-1, 0-0) picked up their first win behind the legs of Maurice Sutton, who rushed for a game-high 113 yards and two touchdowns.
Max Taylor added 108 yards on 12 carries and one touchdown.
The defense had one interception and recovered two fumbles.
The Panthers (0-2, 0-0) were led by quarterback Jacob Lewis, who threw for 239 yards and three touchdowns.
Wide receiver Antonio Strickland continued his stellar play to start the season, hauling in 10 passes for 73 yards and three touchdowns. Caleb Smith added seven catches for 116 yards.
“It was a very hard-fought football game and hats off to Jackson County, they played very hard and our kids played very hard,” White County head coach Bill Ballard said.
“We had to be able to run the ball against to try and keep them to keep them off the field. Their offense is so explosive. Strickland and Smith are so explosive. They are very good football players, and Lewis throws a great ball down the field. ... I’m proud of our guys. (We) were resilient. I just can’t say enough about our effort.”
After the Warriors’ defense forced a punt on the game’s opening drive, Sutton ripped off a 28-yard return down to the Panthers’ 30-yard line.
Five plays later, Sam Turner found the end zone, pounding in the touchdown from a yard away to give the Warriors a 7-0 lead.
After another Panthers’ punt, the Warriors’ offense fumbled the ball on its second drive and Jackson County’s Griffin McElvery recovered the loose ball on the Panthers’ 39-yard line.
The Panthers cashed in on the opportunity when Lewis found Strickland on an 11-yard touchdown strike to cap off a nine-play, 61-yard drive with 11:20 left in the second quarter.
After trading punts, the Warriors’ running attack made short work of a long field, covering 75 yards in five plays, capped off by Taylor’s 41-yard touchdown run to extend the Warriors’ lead to 14-6 with 5:22 left in the second quarter.
The Panthers responded by making short work of an even longer field, covering 76 yards in five plays, capped off by a Lewis 17-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 14-12 late in the quarter.
The score remained 14-12 at halftime.
The Panthers attempted a surprise onside kick to open the second half, but the failure to recover left the Warriors a short field. Two plays into the drive, Sutton dashed to the end zone on a 41-yard run to extend the lead to 21-12.
Lewis found Strickland for the duo’s second touchdown of the game with 52 seconds left in the third quarter to cut the Warriors’ lead to 21-19.
With 7:46 left in the fourth quarter, Sutton extended the Warriors’ lead to 28-19 when he found the end zone for a second time, smashing his way from 4 yards away.
On the ensuing Panthers’ possession, the Warriors’ defense came up with the game-turning interception, returning it to the Panthers’ 6-yard line.
Quarterback AJ Vandiver punched in the touchdown from a yard out to bump the lead to 34-19.
The Panthers’ rally fell short as they managed just one score.
“Obviously, it’s not what we had planned,” Jackson County head coach Benji Harrison. “I thought they (White County) did exactly what we thought they would.
“They are a physical football team. They like to run it right at you. We came up with stops at times, but obviously, we didn’t come up with enough stops. I thought we were sporadic offensively. There were some really good moments and some moments where we had to much inconsistency, and we made a key turnover in the game that hurt us, tremendously.”