By Leland Barclay
Special to The Log Cabin
ALMA — Greenbrier’s first win at Alma was a big one in a lot of ways.
The Panthers turned all three Alma turnovers into touchdowns and turned a battle of conference unbeatens into a mercy-rule game with a 49-17 win.
Greenbrier (8-0, 5-0 5A-West) set up next week’s showdown at home against Greenwood, likely for the 5A-West title.
Friday’s win was the first for Greenbrier at Alma since joining the conference in 1996. The Panthers were 0-7 at Alma before Friday.
"This is a really good win," Greenbrier head coach Randy Tribble said. "We beat them the last two times at our place, and the first one was really our first big win three years ago. To come do it at their place, there’s a lot of satisfaction in that."
After holding Alma to just a field goal, Greenbrier’s offense quickly picked up steam.
"The offense got going pretty good after a series," Tribble said. "The kids executed well enough to do some good things."
Greenbrier’s offense scored on four consecutive possessions after the initial three-and-out with Neal Burcham throwing for 292 yards and three touchdowns in the first half as the Panthers posted a 35-3 halftime cushion.
Burcham threw touchdown passes of 5 yards to Seth Peters and 49 yards to Austin Fischer for a 14-3 lead. Then Jesse May intercepted a pass and set the Panthers up again. Burcham hit four passes and then ran 4 yards for a touchdown and a 21-3 lead. Three plays later, Greenbrier’s Jojo Oluokon returned an interception 42 yards for a touchdown and a 28-3 lead with 8:47 left before the half.
Greenbrier also added another defensive touchdown on May’s 36-yard fumble return on the first play of the fourth quarter that pushed the Panthers up 49-3.
"Those were big plays by our defense," Tribble said. "Interceptions are big, and we turned those into touchdowns."
While Greenbrier’s offense clicked off 313 yards in the first half, the defense held Alma to just three first downs and 110 yards in the opening half.
"Our defense played better than we did last week," Tribble said. "Our kids took a challenge show people that we’re really good on defense. We shut them down pretty good. We bent a little bit, but our kids got after the football. We knew what they did out of different formations most of the time. Our kids really had a good week of practice. They really had their focus and played well."
Alma opened the second half with a 14-play drive which ended at the Greenbrier 1 after a failed fourth-down try.
Greenbrier answered with a 99-yard scoring drive. Burcham was 7-for-7 on the drive for 89 yards. Fischer capped it with a 1-yard plunge for a 42-3 lead.
Burcham finished 28-of-33 passing for 381 yards and three touchdowns. Peters had 12 catches for 168 yards and a touchdown.
"He’s the best quarterback in the state," said Alma coach Todd Dilbeck. "He’s smooth. He had plenty of time, and when he didn’t have plenty of time he scrambled and did some great things with it. The proof is in the pudding."
Brady Bradley finished 19 of 29 for 254 yards and fourth-quarter touchdown pass of 51 yards to Ethan Brewer and 13 yards to Gage Battles.