Birmingham-Southern scored in the final minute to edge LaGrange 29-25 at Callaway Stadium on Saturday. It was the season opener for both teams and spoiled Steve Pardue's debut as the Panthers' new head coach.
Kerrigan Pennington's 28-yard pass to Buddy Dowd capped a 2:35 span in the final quarter where the lead changed three times. The Panthers' last chance ended with an interception on fourth down as Birmingham-Southern ran out the clock.
"We had it won, then they scored and we almost scored again at the very end," Pardue said. "Disappointed in getting beat always, but Im really proud our kids didn't quit. We'll just take this film and go back and get better. We're a work in progress, we'll win along the way but we just got to get better each and every day.
"It was a game with so many little ifs. The play before that touchdown throw we had the quarterback sacked, he throws it and it gets tipped and Royce (Owens) almost has a pick. But I was really proud and that's what I got on to the kids at halftime about just guys keep playing, playing, trust us, trust us. I thought the coaches made some good adjustments offensively in the second half."
LC found itself trailing 16-3 at halftime. The Panthers cut into the deficit with a quick score four minutes into the second half. Connor Blair and Juwan Brown hooked up on a 64-yard touchdown to make it a six point game. LC used up half the quarter with a 14-play 63-yard to take the lead. Blair capped the drive with an 8-yard run as the Panthers took a 17-16 lead into the fourth quarter.
It remained a one-point game until Pennington tossed a 38-yard touchdown pass to put Birmingham-Southern back up 22-17 with 3:35 remaining. The Panthers answered in just 50 seconds. Freshman David Apiag caught his third pass of the game from Blair and turned into a 72-yard touchdown. Nicholas Searcy ran in the two-point conversion for a 25-22 lead.
But a celebration penalty on the touchdown and personal foul penalty on the kickoff gave Birmingham-Southern great field position at the Panthers' 47. Seven plays later Pennington and Dowd hooked up for the go-ahead score.
"We came back out in the third quarter and battled and got up, then they got ahead and then we came back and took the lead again. I thought we were in a position to make a play but you got give them credit for a great throw and catch," said Pardue "We came out and got a couple of big scores then we missed some opportunities. I look back at the game and in the first half we got down to the goal line and didn't get any points, then get a fumble and a short field and didn't get any points, we did score the touchdown but we have got to handle that better.
"We get a penalty and a penalty on the kickoff so they get 30 yards of free field. But Im proud to be a Panther. Proud to be here. Enjoyed the day, we had a great crowd and they were really into the game."
The Panthers finished with 435 yards of total offense. They dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for almost 19 minutes more than Birmingham-Southern.
Blair finished with 262 yards and the two touchdowns. Searcy led the Panthers with 64 yards rushing, while Marcus Campbell had five catches for a game-high 112 yards.
The Panthers are on the road next Saturday at Berry. Kickoff is 6 p.m.