Smiths Station clinches playoff spot with win
By DAVID MITCHELL
OPELIKA, Ala. -- In the 21 previous meetings with Opelika, Smiths Station had won just once and had been shut out on seven different occasions.
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On Friday night at Bulldogs Stadium, the Panthers decided to return the favor.
In a game dominated by the defenses, No. 5 Smiths Station's was just a little better, delivering its first shutout since 2009 to give the team a 3-0 victory over No. 3 Opelika. The win clinched a playoff berth for the Panthers, their first since 2010, and put them atop Class 6A Region 3 with two region contests left to play. It was Smiths Station's first victory over Opelika since 1994 and its second overall. It was also the first time the Panthers had won a game when scoring less than 10 points, having gone 0-38 in such games in the past.
"Six years it took us to get where we could play with the top teams in the state, and tonight we beat one of them," Panthers coach Mark Rose said. "It's all about respect for us, because after the Auburn win it was, 'Well, Au
burn played bad.' Well, I think Smiths Station's got a pretty darn good football team."
The Panthers defense proved that on every drive of the game, barely allowing the Opelika offense to move the ball much past midfield. The Bulldogs crossed midfield on only three of their 10 possessions, and never went further than the Smiths Station 40-yard line.
Smiths Station tightened up even more, if that was possible, in the fourth quarter, clinging to a 3-0 lead and knowing that any points by the Bulldogs offense could ruin and otherwise impressive performance.
The Bulldogs had three possessions inside of six minutes left in the game. On those three possessions, the Panthers allowed just two first downs, forcing turnovers on downs on the first two and time to expire on the last. All told, the Bulldogs gained just 138 yards, 126 of which came on the ground.
Rose praised his defense after the game.
"We knew we were good on defense," he said. "We've hardly given up anything all year. Did I ever think wed' shut out a great team? No, but apparently they thought so."
Linebacker Anfernee Moffett, one of the leaders on defense, said earlier this week he knew his team could win. He re-emphasized that notion after the game on Friday.
"We just kept focused, watched our film during the weak and kept pushing," linebacker Anfernee Moffett said. "We knew what to do."
Not to be overlooked was the performance of the offense, which, despite only scoring three points in the game, was able to move the ball well on the ground to control the clock and give its defense plenty of time on the sidelines. Running back DeVante Marshall carried 23 times for 167 yards, and J.J. Dancy carried 13 for 45.
With the offense backed up at its own 8-yard line on its third drive of the game, Marshall had a 53-yard run on the first play from scrimmage to get the ball into Opelika territory for the first time in the game. Ten plays later, kicker Harrison Jones booted in a 25-yard field goal for the Panthers first and only points in the game.
The Panthers gained 218 yards on the ground and 239 total, but it was more than enough for the win.
"We just ground it out," Rose said. "There's no way you hold them out if we're not able to chew up some of that yardage on the ground."
Now, the Panthers must jockey for position in the region. With games against Carver-Montgomery and Central to round out its region slate, the team has its work cut out for it.
Rose said he didn't like the term 'jockeying,' though, because it was all about taking care of business.
"We've got work left to do, but if you take care of business you don't have to jockey," he said. "We've never had a home playoff game at Smiths Station in 6A. That would be huge for our program."
A win next week over Carver-Montgomery would clinch both a home playoff game and the region. Moffett said the team wasn't thinking about that yet, though. "We just have to take it one step at a time," he said.
Friday at Opelika
Smiths Station 0 3 0 0--3
Opelika 0 0 0 0--0
SS--Harrison Jones 25 field goal; 11:51
Records: Smiths Station, 7-0, 5-0; Opelika, 6-1, 4-1. Next: Smiths Station, Oct. 18 vs. Carver-Montgomery at home; Opelika, Oct. 18 at Jeff Davis.