Panthers survive to win thriller at West Liberty

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Brogan Green of Fairbanks flashes through a hole in the West Liberty-Salem defense Friday night. Green rushed for 231 yards as the Panthers won, 49-48. (Journal-Tribune photo by Tim Miller)

It may go down as perhaps one of the most thrilling Fairbanks High School football games in a number of years.
What it will go down in the books as is a huge, huge victory for the Panthers.
FHS didn’t follow its game plan from last week when Northeastern held a 13-0 lead after the opening period.
Instead, the Panthers scored their first touchdown of the season during the opening quarter and held a 21-7 lead at halftime.
FHS’ initial TD came on a nine-play drive, which was capped by quarterback Ethan Kise’s 11-yard run into the end zone.
Fairbanks scored its other two first-half touchdowns after West Liberty quarterback Christian Griffith threw a trio of interceptions.
One was a Pick Six that was returned 56 yards into the end zone by Riordin Stauffer.
What followed was one of the wildest halves of gridiron action of the shortened 2020 season.
Fairbanks (3-0 overall and 2-0 in the Ohio Heritage Conference) appeared to have things
somewhat in hand with a 35-20 lead at the end of the third quarter.
The Tigers, however, weren’t going to roll over for anyone, especially on their home field.
West Liberty sliced its deficit to 35-26 early in the fourth set.
Brogan Green, who rushed for 231 yards, gave the Panthers a bit of breathing room with a 60-yard run.
The Tigers, though, pulled to within 42-34 with 6:43 to play in the game.
Griffith, who shook off his interceptions, found Nick Burden on a 13-yard scoring pass.
Griffith also engineered a two-point conversion that closed the Tigers’ gap to 42-34.
It was the Panthers’ turn to roar back when a pair of running plays by Green took the ball from the FHS 38 to the Tiger two-yard-line.
Kise’s plunge into the end zone and Cade Ziegler’s extra point gave what appeared to be a comfortable 49-34 advantage to the Panthers.
As the game went into the closing minutes, the teams battled for possession on onside kicks.
West Liberty also took advantage of a few Panther penalties.
The Tigers added to the drama when they scored another TD with 4:05 on the timer.
FHS looked as though it was going to get out of a jam when Griffith threw an incompletion.
The Panthers, however, were whistled for roughing-the-passer, which gave the Tigers new life.
Griffith later found Isaiah McGill for a 10-yard touchdown pass. The quarterback then connected with Burden for the two-point conversion that pulled West Liberty to within 49-42.
Fairbanks was slowed down by a false start infraction and ended up punting with 2:33 on the clock.
The Tigers were buried on their own 11, but started one of their long drives.
Griffith hit Wade with a pair of key passes and Fairbanks was caught on a pass interference call.
West Liberty crossed midfield as the timer reached the 1:08 mark.
The Tigers were flagged for an ineligible receiver and lost a down, but FHS declined the penalty.
That’s when Griffith faded back in the pocket, searching for a receiver.
He rifled the ball to the right sideline and into Burden’s hands.
The Tiger receiver made a nifty spin move and scampered the remainder of the 42-yard scoring play.
West Liberty pulled to within 49-48 with the touchdown.
The clock read 56.3 seconds when the Tigers lined up for the go-ahead two-point conversion.
Griffith took the shotgun snap and looked for receivers in the end zone.
His efforts, though, were in vain as the ball skittered on the ground for an incomplete pass.
The Panthers, who will host neighboring Triad on Friday, took over the ball with 53 ticks on the clock and went into victory formation.

They needed only two snaps before the celebration began.
“First of all, West Liberty is a very good football team,” said Panther head coach Patrick Cotter.
“You’ve got to continue to make plays against them and that’s what we did whenever they closed the score on us.
“Brogan made some big plays for us… that kid just runs so hard.
“We’ve got a team that takes care of any adversity we face,” he said. “They don’t get down on themselves.”
when things go wrong… they just rise up to that challenge.”



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