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Carmen Rodgers/ TPI Elmore County’s Nathan Jones (48) tries to outmaneuver Marbury’s Cedric Calloway (3).

Elmore County’s football team came up short in its season opener against the Class 5A Marbury Bulldogs, 35-18, but nonetheless ECHS coach Jordan Cantrell said he saw some “tough dudes” among his Panthers.

Running backs Lapatrick Brown and Keshawn Benson managed to keep Elmore County challenging in the first half with a pair of rushing touchdowns. Brown finished the game with 106 rushing yards and one touchdown. Brown added 64 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.

Juniors Cole Boothe and Brody Ward combined for 14 tackles on defense. 

“I think we learned some stuff about our team,” Cantrell said. “We’ve got 36 players, and every single one of them are some hard-nosed dudes.”

After trading a few brief possessions, quarterback Dylan Weaver got the Panthers going in the first quarter, completing his first varsity pass to junior fullback Nathan Jones for 18 yards. Although the offense was stifled near the goal line, kicker Zachary Jones drew first blood with a 20-yard field goal kick. But on the ensuing kickoff, Marbury senior Dantavius Bristow broke containment and found the end zone on a 90-yard return. Bristow followed that up with a dive for the two-point conversion. 

Brown helped the Panthers strike back in the second quarter, with a flurry of runs through the Bulldog defense. He closed the drive with a 1-yard touchdown, and Weaver followed with a bootleg for the two-point conversion. 

But Marbury kept rumbling behind Bristow, who finished with 179 yards rushing and another 105 yards on kick returns. 

Jones helped the Panthers to one last lead late in the half, as Jones found the end zone from 3 yards out. Zach Jones’ point after kick was good. But again, Marbury denied the Panthers any momentum, as Bristow took the next play from scrimmage 49 yards for a touchdown. 

Marbury only just edged the Panthers in total offense for the game — 302 yards to 288. Weaver completed half his passes, and did not throw an interception. 

“They’re a really good football team,” Cantrell said. “He’s changed some stuff around, and you can see it paying off.”

But he said the “tough dudes” on his side of the field gave him a lot of hope for the 2019 campaign. 

“We’ve got a special group,” he said. “They work really hard. Win or lose, this is the team I want to coach.”