By Cheri Thacker
Maybe it was a lucky coin tossed into the air by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell at last Friday night’s Bartlett Panther’s football game. The toss landed in favor of the Ripley Tigers who deferred the kickoff but the final score saw the Panther’s bringing home their first win. The 1965 Bartlett alumnus and elected leader of our county performed the honors as part of the evening’s homecoming celebration.
The Panther’s first drive seemed promising when Johnny Shepperd ran the ball back for a 20-yard kickoff return to the Panther’s 45-yard line. Later, on a fourth and two, the Panther’s went for the conversion. Nick Bramlett rolled out to his left and connected with receive Wesley Johnson who pulled in the ball with a stunning one-handed catch for the first down. The Tigers defense would later hold the Panther’s on a fourth and eight conversion attempt taking over on downs at their own 30-yard line.
The Ripley Tigers marched down the field to the 36-yard line where the Panther’s defense had the Tigers in a third and ten situation. Then the game came to a halt, the stands emptied, and the teams and fans sought shelter when officials paused the game for a lightening delay with four minutes left in the first quarter. Play resumed around 8:15 p.m. with a wet field and a twenty degree drop in temperature since the start of the game.
On the first play back, the Panther’s defense stopped the third down conversion attempt but couldn’t stop the Tiger’s from moving the chains on fourth down. With Ripley threatening on the 17-yard line, lightening flashed again causing officials to pause the game for the second time with 2:19 left in the first. The longest first quarter in history eventually closed with the score knotted up at nothing apiece.
The second quarter saw a quick touchdown by the Tigers with a 51-yard run down the right side. The Panther’s blocked the point after attempt, holding the Tigers to a six point lead until 9:27 left in second when a quick pass turned into a 63-yard conversion adding another six to the board. The two point conversion attempt was good and the Panther’s faced a 14-0 deficit.
Late in the second, Panther’s Austin Kellon answered defensively with a fumble recovery taking the ball home on a 52-yard run to put a Bartlett six on the board with 4:02 remaining in the half. The successful point after attempt brought the score to seven and the second half would close with no additional scoring change.
Bramlett connected with Johnson again in the second half bringing the score to thirteen. With three minutes left in the fourth, the Panthers fumbled and the Tigers took it into the end zone to increase the lead to twenty. A gutsy onside kick by the Tigers was recovered by the Panthers. On third and thirteen from the twenty the Bramlett-Johnson connection put another six points on the board and left the Panther’s with a decision to go for the tie or the win.
Coach Brewer’s team went for the win with a Braylon Porter run capping off his phenomenal fourth quarter play. The Bartlett Panthers close Homecoming celebrations with their first win of the season.