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Adams leads Panthers to emotionally charged triumph
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Adams leads Panthers to emotionally charged triumph

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FERRUM—An emotionally charged match-up between long-time rivals ended Saturday night with Ferrum College’s head football coach winning at home for the first time and with its veteran senior quarterback claiming his first triumph at home as the Panthers starting signal caller.

The truth is Ferrum’s 31-24 non-conference victory of Averett University will be remembered most by a play the Panthers’ defense made in the third quarter, a play that capped a possible 14-point swing and enabled the Panthers to extend a four-point edge at intermission to 18 points.

Ferrum head coach Cleive Adams won for the first time at W.B. Adams Stadium in his one-plus years tenure after winning there three times during a six-year head coach term at Averett, and quarterback Titus Jones had previously lost three home starts: to Randolph-Macon College as a sophomore in 2019 and to Emory & Henry College and Bridgewater College as a junior this past spring.

The play that stood out occurred with 7:54 left in the third quarter with Averett (0-1) driving deep into the red (scoring) zone in an attempt to reduce a 21-10 deficit to a single-digit difference.

On a second and goal call from the Ferrum 6, a pass attempt by Cougars quarterback Bryce Jackson was tipped by Ferrum defender Josh Austin and caught by defensive lineman Devin Hanson at the 10.

Hanson, a senior, returned the interception, the first of his Ferrum career, 90 yards for a touchdown to help Ferrum (1-0) enhance its advantage, one that would reach 21 points (31-10) before Averett rallied for two, fourth-quarter TDs on Jackson pass plays covering 17 and 6 yards.

“It was a new experience for me. I’ve never done anything like that in college (football). Most of the credit goes to Josh Austin, he tipped the pass. Then, the ball was up in the air and all I had to do was catch it and run,’’ Hanson said. “Really, all the credit goes to Josh.

“It was an in-the-moment thing—it was one of those moments in football where you just go. I saw (the ball), caught it and took off.

“After I cleared the second (Averett) player, I looked to the left and there was nobody else there, just a bunch of white (Ferrum) jerseys. Then, I was in the end zone. I’d never saw myself in that situation,’’ Hanson said. “It was a new experience for me.

“It was crazy. I was tired when I got to end zone. I had to take off a couple of plays (after the score). I was not ready to run 90 yards.’’

As an old defensive coordinator, Adams said he loves to see Pick 6s.

“We talked at halftime about getting our hands up (on defense). They were throwing a lot of RPOs (run-pass options) and not a lot of five-step drops until the end, so you really didn’t have a chance to rush the quarterback. Josh came off the edge and got his hands up, (tipped it) and Devin picked it off and took it in,’’ Adams said.

“We’ve got some guys on defense who can run and Devin is a defensive end who can flat-out run. I’m pretty impressed by that.’’

“It’s always fun to see the defense come up with the ball and score,’’ Jones said. “They pick me off in practice some times and they can’t always take it back to the house (the end zone). To see (Devin) take it all the way to the crib and score was very exciting.’’

Averett was plagued by three turnovers—two fumbles and the interception. Ferrum’s lone turnover was a fumble.

The Panthers capped a 17-point second half when kicker Seth Deaton nailed a 26-yard field goal with 11:47 remaining—a boot that ended an 11-play, 53-yard march that erased 5:52 from the clock.

Emotions erupted second after the final gun as the two teams had to be separated in the end zone.

“I wish the game hadn’t ended that way,’’ Adams said.

Next season, the emotional level of this contest reaches a new level when it becomes an Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) encounter that will be staged in the final week of regular-season play. Averett enters the league as an all-sports member in July 2022.

Ferrum’s victory is its first in a season opener since …

“From an emotional standpoint, I’m glad this one is done. It was hard. I didn’t get to get it off my chest last year. Finally getting to play, it was emotional on both sides,’’ Adams said. “For all intents and purposes, the majority of the foundation of Averett’s coaching) staff were my guys. We spent a ton of time together. We were together for quite a long time. Games like this are always tough.’’

One of Adams’ Averett assistants, Scott McConnell, the Panthers’ special teams coordinator and wide receivers coach, filled a vacancy on Ferrum’s staff, thus he too was able to share in Adams’ triumph.

“I think this is going to be a natural rivalry. This first one with me back here, it didn’t disappoint the fans, I can tell you that much. It was a tough game. Every year moving forward, it’s going to be a battle in recruiting and on the sidelines,’’ Adams said.

Ferrum’s fans returned to Adams Stadium for the first time since 2019 and Averett brought a significant contingent of its faithful to cheer on the Cougars. The attendance was estimated at 2,259.

Adams said he was familiar with about 75 percent of Averett’s players.

“Looking at the two-deep (depth chart), I recruited and coached probably all but two or three players in (Averett’s) starting line-up,’’ Adams said.

Jones was 21 of 30 for 239 yards and three TDs and he rushed for a game-best 57 yards.

Jones completed passes to nine receivers with Tmahdae Penn catching nine tosses for 131 yards and two scores—one in each half.

Ferrum led 14-0 after Jones’ TD hook-ups with Penn for seven yards in the first quarter and Christian Caldwell for 15 yards in the second stanza.

Penn’s second TD catch covered 18 yards in the third period and produced a 21-10 Ferrum advantage.

Averett’s Shawn Watlington scored the game’s lone rushing TD with 12:02 showing in the second stanza and a 38-yard field goal by Will Caviness completed a 10-point scoring surge by the Cougars.

Jackson was 31 of 54 for 322 yards, two TDs and the one interception. He completed passes to seven receivers with Jarrod Mosby leading the way with seven receptions for 90 yards. Isaiah Grice and Nick Andrews caught Jackson’s scoring strikes.

Ja’Kari Williams was Ferrum’s top tackler with nine solo stops. Billy Higgins and Rashawn Hairston each had a tackle for loss, while Drew Hill and Dion Graham each recovered a fumble and Williams, Graham and former Franklin County prep standout Jalen Jamison each broke up a pass.

Former FCHS star Josh Luckett, a freshman, has won Ferrum’s punting job. In his first intercollegiate contest, he punted five times for 181 yards—a 36.2-yard average. His best effort covered 48 yards and he placed three of his punts inside the 20 yard line.

Former FCHS standout Ethan Berger, a junior, started on Ferrum’s offensive line which helped produce 385 yards and 21 first downs on 73 offensive plays.

Ferrum’s season-opening victory is its first since 2019.

The Panthers have their open date this Saturday. Their next game is Saturday, Sept. 18 against Christopher Newport University in Newport News.

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