The Smiths Station football team has been as close to perfect as it can be through its first five games this season.
The record is spotless, it knocked off one of the state’s top teams against Auburn, it has allowed less than 20 points in four of its five games and it has handled the pressure that comes with being a frontrunner.
That’s why many of us, fans and media alike, have started looking forward to the Opelika game two weeks from now. That game will begin a difficult stretch, during which the Panthers will face Opelika, Carver-Montgomery and Central.
We have that luxury. Smiths Station does not.
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If it looks past Thursday night’s game at Lee-Montgomery, it very well may make the long drive back to Smiths Station with its first black mark on the resume.
I can hear the protests.
“Lee-Montgomery has won once this year and only six times in its past 25!”
“Smiths Station shut down Auburn. How is Lee-Montgomery going to put enough points on the board?”
I can understand that mentality, but if I’m coach Mark Rose, I have my team on high upset alert this week. Something tells me he’s thinking along the same lines.
I’ll give you a few reasons.
First, Lee-Montgomery’s record is misleading. The Generals have lost four of five games to start the season, but three of those came against playoff teams from a season ago.
They lost 34-14 to Opelika, 41-39 to Central and 20-14 to Spain Park. Against Central, Lee-Montgomery battled back from a 24-3 halftime deficit to give itself a chance to win, and nearly defeated a Spain Park team that is currently 5-0.
Two plays are the difference between 1-4 and 3-2 for the Generals.
Also, Smiths Station could get caught looking ahead to its next few games. Anytime there is a “cupcake” on the schedule the week before arguably the biggest game of the season, it’s worth taking notice.
Like many of us have done, it would be easy for the Panthers to go ahead and mark down 6-0 and start thinking about what it will take to bring down Opelika and take another step closer to a region title.
That would be a very costly mistake.
And, finally, these are uncharted waters for the current Smiths Station players. They’re not quite sure what it’s like to have a target on their backs.
In the past, the Panthers have been the ones gunning for an upset, trying to knock off the big dog for that one special win of the season.
Now, roles have reversed. Smiths Station is ranked No. 6 in the state and would be the pièce de résistance for a team like Lee-Montgomery.
The Panthers have been the best team in the area so far. They have impressed at every turn. And though it may seem like one of the easier games on the schedule, avoiding an upset on Thursday would be further evidence of the team’s progress.