MIDDLEBURG – In a battle of winless teams, the Middleburg Broncos came up short in their bid to secure their first win of the season Friday, losing a hard-fought game against the visiting (and also …
MIDDLEBURG – In a battle of winless teams, the Middleburg Broncos came up short in their bid to secure their first win of the season Friday, losing a hard-fought game against the visiting (and also winless) Palatka Panthers, 20-15.
“Hats off to our players and our seniors for leading the way,” said Panthers coach Willie Fells. “I’m so proud of our guys tonight. So proud about their resilience – and just keep fighting. Let me tell you; We look at our record, but according to Maxpreps, we played the number one toughest schedule in 4A. We done played three undefeated teams. Fleming Island, Bolles. We played some top-tier talent in Northeast Florida.”
That experience against opponents of that caliber may be what helped the Panthers finally pull out a win after losing their first eight to open the season.
Both teams featured run-first offenses, with dynamic quarterbacks who were better at making plays with their legs than through the air.
After a 0-0 first quarter, which saw uneven play from both teams, Palatka’s dynamic signal-caller, Qjuan Nelson, opened the scoring with an 82-yard run on a keeper that showcased his open-field speed. After a two-point conversion, the Panthers led 8-0 with 1:23 remaining in the first half.
The Broncos, however, weren’t ready to roll over for the visitors. On the ensuing kickoff, Austin Dillon returned the kick 65-yards to put Middleburg onto the scoreboard for the first time. A quarterback run by the always dangerous Luke Padgett on the two-point conversion attempt was successful, and the game went to the break tied at eight.
The game swung back and forth in the third quarter.
At the 8:36 mark, Nelson struck again, this time on a 13-yard run to retake the lead. The two-point attempt was no good, leaving the margin at 14-6 for the visitors.
Padgett, who was close to 100 rushing yards on the night, got the Broncos back into the lead with a 30-yard run for a touchdown. An extra-point kick later, it was 15-14 for the home team.
The Panthers weren’t done yet. A two-minute drive closed out the third quarter with a score. This time though, Nelson didn’t run it in; he threw a 19-yard pass to junior Roderris Passmore. Another failed conversion attempt left the score 20-15 entering the fourth.
Neither team would score again, making five points the margin of victory.
With 4:40 remaining in the game, Middleburg would attempt a fake punt to try and get a new set of downs, but the pass was intercepted.
“These guys kept fighting, man,” said Fells. “There was never any give up in them. “Hats off to our players and coaches. They just did a great job.”
Middleburg (0-8) hosts a third straight home game Friday against Baldwin (8-0). Palatka (1-8) returns home to host St. Augustine (5-2).