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Kenneth Boone / Tallapoosa Publsihers Elmore County's Keshawn Benson runs the ball.

With Elmore County winless on the season and Dadeville sitting at a disappointing 1-4, Friday night was destined to be a scene of agony and ecstasy at Tiger Stadium. It was in only the final minute of the Panthers and Tigers’ tilt the two roles were assigned. 

After trading touchdowns throughout the night Elmore County won their first game of the season when Keshawn Benson broke free for a game-winning 33-yard touchdown for a 28-21 victory in non-region action. Unable to drag Benson down with under a minute remaining, Dadeville was left with a painful homecoming defeat. 

“We don’t know how to win; we don’t know how to finish and we don’t know how to tackle,” Tigers coach Richard White said. “We had people in position and we missed three tackles on that last touchdown. When you do that, you’re not going to win football games.”

On the visiting side, Panther coach Jordan Cantrell sat sprawled on the grass, savoring the moment and how his young team made it a reality. 

“We’ve got a tough group of dudes,” Cantrell said. “People knew that, I think, even if we didn’t have a win coming into this game. Our guys have been fighting and we’ve just been on the short end so far.”

The Panthers outgained Dadeville 348 yards to 305, with all but 4 of those yards earned on the ground. Keshawn Benson and Lapatrick Brown combined for three touchdowns and almost 300 yards, and more than 20 carries each. 

Benson racked up 208 yards on 21 carries. With touchdowns of 75 yards and 33 yards, it was a career night. Brown’s carries often ended in a pile of dust and bodies, 89 yards of punishing runs and one touchdown. 

“They played great, and they couldn’t do it without those big guys up front,” he said. “Our O-line is pretty stout now, though our record doesn’t show that either.”

Dadeville’s Jamarion Wilkerson opened the scoring with a 65-yard first-quarter scamper. But the Panthers answered back on Brown’s 7-yard touchdown dive. Cole Boothe put the Panthers up in the second quarter with a 2-yard dive to the end zone. 

Then late in the half, Javuntae Holley scored on a 9-yard run then handled the two-point conversion as well, tying up the game before halftime. 

A scoreless third quarter served as the calm before the storm. A Panther fumble gave the Tigers some hope, but Dadeville lost key yardage when Boothe and Nathan Jones knocked a ball free in the Panthers’ red zone. The Tigers recovered the ball but failed to convert on fourth down. 

The next play, Benson broke free around left end and left everyone in his dust for a 75-yard touchdown. 

But Dadeville wasn’t finished either. Quarterback Lane Smith connected with Cooper Childers on a 49-yard bomb. Alex Sims’ point after kick knotted the score again with five minutes left to play. 

Elmore County icker Zac Jones was perfect on the night kicking extra points and also added a couple of game-preserving punts of more than 40 yards late in the game. 

After one of those key punts, Brody Ward, the Panthers’ quarterback who was also playing on defense, crashed the line and blasted the ball free. Kameron Ledbetter came up with the vital turnover.

The fumble set up the Benson’s game-breaking touchdown, with 55 seconds left on the clock. Smith and his receivers took three last-second shots at the end zone, but tight coverage by Ward and Zion Reed denied the Tigers as time expired.

White was morose after the game, musing that “we’ve forgotten to win around here.”

“I don’t really know what to do,” he said. “I’m not used to losing.”

Cantrell praised his Panthers’ grit, both in Friday night’s win and through the four-game skid. 

“They could’ve easily laid down and made excuses out of injuries, or lack of depth,” said Cantrell, noting almost every player sees time on both sides of the ball. “They’re tough as all get-out. I’ll ride or die with these dudes.”