SMITHS STATION, Ala. -- As the final seconds in a region contest between Auburn and Smiths Station ticked off the clock and players began to flood the field, a couple Panthers players huddled suspiciously, hands grasped on the handles of a water cooler.
Quietly, they made their way to coach Mark Rose and doused the man who, in five plus seasons as the team’s head coach, had never beaten the Tigers.
Until Friday night.
The upstart Panthers defeated the visiting Tigers 34-18 in a game that was made closer only Auburn returned a late kickoff for a touchdown. It was only Smiths Stations second victory in the past 16 tries against the Tigers and put them into a tie for first place in the region with Opelika, which defeated Central.
The win was a signature win at the school for Rose, who has tried to turn it into a competitive team during his time at the helm.
“That’s not my first one, but it’s been awhile,” said a smiling Rose of his water bath on the sidelines. “The other ones felt cold, but this one felt pretty good.”
The Panthers trailed 12-7 going into the half, but made the right adjustments on both sides of the ball, erupting to an insurmountable lead in the second half.
They took their first lead of the second half with just over four minutes to go in the third quarter when quarterback Jerrell Gilmore hit wide receiver Johnny Woods for a 14-yard touchdown to complete an 80-yard drive. Shortly thereafter, less than a minute into the fourth, the Panthers made the lead eight on a 1-yard run by Amonte Caban.
When a 63-yard pass from Gilmore to running back DeVante Marshall crossed the goal line, the crowd was deafening, and the Panthers upset was all but complete.
“We were on top of the world, man,” Marshall said. “We came out focused. We conditioned all week to be prepared for the second half.” Smiths Station’s final offensive touchdown came on a 35-yard run by Caban in mop-up time.
Marshall led the offense with 90 yards and a touchdown rushing to go with his 63-yard touchdown reception. Gilmore was 7 of 12 passing for 189 yards and two touchdowns. Woods tallied five catches for 95 yards and a touchdown.
While the offense woke up late, it was the defense that cinched the victory.
In the second half, the Panthers defense allowed zero points, with the Tigers’ only six coming on an 85-yard kickoff return by Tyus Flakes. The unit sacked Tigers quarterback Bradley Northcutt on a handful of occasions and Woods intercepted a pass that led to a score that put Smiths Station up 15.
“Johnny is a football player,” Rose said of his wide receiver/defensive back. “He’s a winner and a leader.”
Rose praised his defense’s effort after the win for its numerous stops in the second half.
Anfernee Moffett also recorded an interception in the first half.
The Panthers got on the board first, taking a 7-0 lead on a 4-yard run by DeVante Marshall with only 18 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
After forcing an Auburn fumble in Smiths Station territory, the Tigers’ second of two first-half turnovers, the Panthers recovered and went 53 yards on three plays to take the lead. Quarterback Jerrell Gilmore hit wide receiver Johnny Woods for a 48-yard pass to start the drive. Woods broke free behind the Tigers defense, caught the ball in stride and rumbled to the 5-yard line before being brought down. Two plays later, Marshall chugged 4 yards for the score.
The lead was short lived, though, as Auburn punched one in on its next offensive possession, going 50 yards in two minutes, 28 seconds. Auburn running back Tyus Flakes touchded the ball four times on the drive, three carries and one reception, notching 36 yards, including a 9-yard run for the score.
The Tigers scored again less than two minutes later on a safety, giving them a 9-7 lead when the Panthers snapped the ball out of the back of the end zone on a punt. They extended their lead to five on a field goal with less than a minute left in the half.
Smiths Station forced Auburn into a 52-yard field goal try, which kicker Sage Ledbetter missed. Ledbetter was given a reprieve, however, due to a roughing the kicker penalty. The Tigers got first down, stalled and connected on a 42-yard field goal with 44 seconds left before the break.
Rose stressed the win was nothing more than just another victory for the Panthers.
“I’ve been in a lot of big wins,” Rose said. “You have to keep things in perspective. There’s still a long way to go. We haven’t had a lot of success here, so we have to keep the guys down to earth. We’ve got a long season. We have to keep things in perspective.”
Friday at Panther Stadium
Auburn 0 12 0 6—18
Smiths 7 0 6 21—34
S—DeVante Marshall 4 run (Harrison Jones kick); :18
A—Tyus Flakes 9 run (Sage Ledbetter kick); 9:47
A—Sage Ledbetter 42 field goal; :44
S—Johnny Woods 14 pass from Jerrell Gilmore (2-pt. failed); 4:28
S—Amonte Caban 1 run (Harrison Jones kick); 11:15
S—DeVante Marshall 63 pass from Jerrell Gilmore (Harrison Jones kick); 9:24
S—Amonte Caban 35 run (Harrison Jones kick); 2:07
A—Tyus Flakes 85 kickoff return (2-pt. failed); 1:55
Records: Auburn, 2-1 (1-1); Smiths Station, 3-0 (2-0). Next: Auburn, Sept. 19 at Sidney Lanier; Smiths Station, Sept. 20 at Jeff Davis.