Loss drops Panthers out of top spot in region
By RYAN BLACK
PHENIX CITY -- Central was playing for nothing but pride Friday night.
Already knocked out of the playoff race, head coach Woodrow Lowe didn't bring the topic up. There was nothing his team could do about it, after all. So the Red Devils went out and did the next best thing: they made it tougher for one of their biggest rivals once it reaches the postseason, dropping No. 9 Smiths Station 26-15 on Friday night at Garrett-Harrison Stadium.
While pleased with the win, the first words out of Lowe's mouth in his postgame interview was lamenting how his team didn't win by more.
"Really, we should have gotten two more scores, but it's been that way all year for us," he said. "It's been this way. We're close and then we shoot ourselves in the foot. But hey, I'm proud of this young group of guys. I've been telling them for the last two weeks we're about 42 inches away from being in the playoffs."
Central's (5-4, 4-3 Class 6 Region 3A) victory couldn't have been more devastating for Smiths Station. The loss dropped the Panthers (7-2, 5-2) from the top spot in the region and a home playoff game down to No. 3, meaning they will have to head on the road in the first round of postseason play.
The Red Devils didn't do anything fancy to clinch their victory, either. In fact, Central didn't even complete a pass in the second half -- but it didn't have to, as it tallied 199 yards on the ground. For the game, the Red Devils finished with 384 yards of total offense (286 rushing, 98 passing), well outpacing the Panthers, who gained just 189 (138 passing, 54 rushing).
And Lowe was right: the
Red Devils could have won by even more; however, quarterback Zion Webb had two passes intercepted in the end zone that prevented a pair of scoring chances for the hosts.
The first interception came on the Red Devils' first drive of the game, coming after they recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff.
Three plays later, they were down to the 12-yard line. Then Smiths Station safety Nigel Lawrence turned the tables, picking off Webb in the end zone and not stopping until he reached the opposite goal line. Harrison Jones wasn't able to convert the extra-point, however, leaving the Panthers' lead at 6-0 with 9:57 to go in the first quarter.
Central took the ball back at its own 31-yard line, going on a 15-play drive. It came up empty, however, as the Red Devil kicker Cameron Herring's 31-yard field goal attempt never had a chance due to a bad snap with just more than five minutes to play in the opening period.
Starting the ensuing possession at its own 20-yard line, the Panthers took 11 plays to move down to the Red Devils' 11-yard line. Once there, Smiths Station's progress slowed, gaining only four more yards and settling for a 24-yard field goal from Jones.
Down 9-0 with 10:22 before halftime, the Red Devils' offense finally got untracked. It took only two plays for the hosts to respond, with Webb scoring on a 50-yard touchdown. Central's signal-caller kept the ball himself, running up the middle before darting to the left. Once there, no Smiths Station defender could catch up, as he dashed up the left sideline for the Red Devils' first score of the game. Herring's PAT was good, cutting Smiths Station's lead to 9-7 at the 9:34 mark.
After its defense forced a quick three-and-out, Central's offense was on the field once more. Just as they did on their previous possession, it took the Red Devils just two plays to reach the end zone. Webb once again played a key role, hitting Khaled Berklin in stride at Smiths Station's 25-yard line. The receiver did the rest of the work, making multiple defenders miss before cutting all the way across the other side of the field and scoring on the right side of the end zone to give the Red Devils their first lead. Herring's successful PAT pushed the lead to 14-9 with 6:17 remaining in the first half.
The two teams traded three-and-outs on the next two possessions before Central found itself with one more scoring opportunity prior to halftime thanks to another gaffe by the Panthers. On third-and-16 from its own 36, Smiths Station quarterback Jerrell Gilmore couldn't handle the snap, bobbling the ball and eventually dropping it to the ground. Central defensive lineman Walter Pritchett was there to jump on it, giving the Red Devils the ball at the Panthers' 28-yard line with 1:01 to go in the second stanza. Webb quickly completed two passes for 15 yards -- to Samuel and Kenneth Thomas, respectively -- to get down to the 11-yard line. But Webb forced a pass into coverage and was picked off by Kenny Wimberly.
In the second half, Central stayed on the ground, with both of its scores (a 4-yard run by Samuel in the third quarter and a 32-yard dash by Kenneth Thomas with 1:39 remaining) coming via the rush.
One aspect of the game that nagged at Lowe was the number of penalties his team committed. On Smiths Station's final scoring drive in the fourth quarter, the Red Devils had a pair of personal foul penalties that gave the visitors 30 free yards.
And Lowe said he couldn't blame the intensity of the "Backyard Brawl" rivalry for all of them.
"Our guys were up, their guys were up," he said.
Friday at Garrett-Harrison Stadium
Smiths Station 6 3 0 6--15
Central 0 14 6 6--26
SSHS- Nigel Lawrence 100 interception return (Harrison Jones kick no good), 9:57
SSHS- Jones 24 kick, 10:30
CHS- Zion Webb 50 run (Cameron Herring kick), 9:34
CHS- Khaled Berklin 45 pass from Webb (Herring kick), 6:17
CHS- Traveon Samuel 4 run (Herring kick no good), 7:36
SSHS- LeDarion Heath 18 pass from Jerrell Gilmore (Jones kick no good), 7:36
CHS- Kenneth Thomas 32 run, 1:39