SMITHS STATION, Ala. -- They're in. Barely.
Central-Phenix City outlasted Smiths Station 28-22 Friday night, using the survive-and-advance technique to escape with their playoff flame lit.
The winner of Friday's game was to secure fourth place in Class 6A Region 3, qualifying for the state playoffs, while the loser would fail to make the playoffs. The Red Devils (7-2, 5-2) bolted out to an 28-10 point lead, and seemed like they'd comfortably grab that one playoff spot up for grabs at Panther Stadium.
But Smiths Station wouldn't go quietly, garnering touchdown runs by Chris Logan and Nigel Lawrence to tighten the margin and eventually getting within shouting distance of a season finale shocker.
"We were too overconfident and we let down," Central coach Woodrow Lowe said. "They made a few adjustments to make us balance up, and they figured that's the best way to get us. They found some holes and cracks, and it seemed like we were on our heels."
Central committed 13 penalties for 85 yards, no doubt one of the many topics of discussion Lowe has on the docket this upcoming week as Central prepares to face Stanhope Elmore out of 6A-4 in the opening round.
But the defense stood up when it had to. Lineback
er Akil Perry denied Lawrence on fourth-and-short, and cornerback Chris James came up with an interception to prevent Smiths Station (4-5, 3-4) from ever taking the lead in the final 41 minutes.
"It was a really good boost, because I love being an impact player. It came at a good time," said James, who also had a key pick against Auburn earlier this year. "This was bigger. We live for nights like this."
For much of the first half, Central sophomore Traveon Samuel was perfectly content on the sideline, patiently waiting his turn.
He was the stark contrast to Smiths Station's smashmouth football, methodically moving up the field with runs up the middle and short passing gains in the flat.
That's not Samuel's game. Basically every time the 5-foot-8, 165-pound running back got ahold of the ball, he was a threat to go the distance by busting tackles and smoking Smiths Station with his agility and breakaway speed.
Samuel scored a pair of 6-yard runs and caught a 12-yard touchdown from Jamal Howard in the first half, and added his fourth touchdown on a 1-yard draw in the third quarter. He racked up over 100 total yards on his first seven touches, and added a 37-yard return off a bounced punt -- turning something out of nothing.
"We had to come out with a fast pace and execute the offense," Samuel said. "They stood up and we got too comfortable with our lead."
Samuel had just four total yards in the second half. Tailback Deon Hall led all runners with 98 yards on 13 carries.
Smiths Station had control from the start, executing a 12-play drive resulting in Harrison Jones' 33-yard field goal to draw first blood. Central immediately responded going 65 yards in three plays, when Howard's 41-yard scramble set the table for Samuel's first touchdown.
Logan led the Panthers with 82 yards on seven carries. Smiths Station quarterback Jerrell Gilmore completed 15-of-24 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown, while Johnny Woods caught seven passes for 108 yards, including a 16-yard score.
Friday at Panther Stadium
Central 7 14 7 0--28
Smiths Station 3 7 12 0--22
SS--Harrison Jones 33 field goal, 5:50
C--Traveon Samuel 6 run (Chandler Chancellor kick), 5:17
C--Samuel 12 pass from Jamal Howard (Chancellor kick), 10:10
SS--Johnny Woods 16 pass from Jerrell Gilmore (Jones kick), 7:45
C--Samuel 6 run (Chancellor kick), 6:26
C--Samuel 1 run (Chancellor kick), 9:49
SS--Chris Logan 20 run (kick blocked), 7:13
SS--Nigel Lawrence 5 run (run failed), 1:54
Records: Central 7-2, 5-2 Class 6A Region 3; Smiths Station 4-5, 3-4. Next: Central, home vs. Stanhope Elmore, Friday, 8 p.m.; Smiths Station, home vs. Valley, Friday, 8 p.m.