It's hard to figure out where to start when going back over this game. As sports writers, we try to capture every aspect of a game, particularly what happened and how it happened, but also the environment in which it happened and the significance of what happened.
I'll start with the latter.
The significance of this game is simple: Without giving an in depth look into the history of Smiths Station football, I can still confidently say that this is one of if not the biggest win in program history.
A win over No. 3 Opelika proved what the players and coaches have believed all along: Smiths Station is a bona fide contender, not just in Class 6A Region 3, but in the state of Alabama.
The win over Auburn was impressive for the Panthers, but still questions remained. Unfounded questions, perhaps, but questions nonetheless.
Was Auburn as good this year as in past years? Did the Tigers have a bad game? Did Smiths Station simply play above and beyond its talent level to spring the upset on an unsuspecting opponent.
The win over Opelika proved the answer to each of those three questions to be a resounding 'no'.
Smiths Station is for real. Let's put the difference in this year's matchup into context.
Smiths Station had faced Opelika 21 times in the history of the two programs. It had lost 20. The Panthers had been shut out seven of those 21 games, and had never held the Bulldogs to less than 20 points four teams, all of which came before 1995. In the past 15 meetings before this year, Opelika had scored at least 35 points 11 times.
And then Friday happened.
The Smiths Station defense was a determined unit, out to put itself among the elite in the state of Alabama. Mission: Accomplished.
Since allowing 28 points to Enterprise in Week 1--which, while we're on the subject, should feel really good about its offense considering the six weeks that followed--Smiths Station hasn't allowed more than 18.
Those 18 game against Auburn, which got six on a kickoff return. The other five games have seen point totals of 8, 14, 9, 12 and 0 against the Panthers defense.
The Panthers face another difficult opponent in Carver-Montgomery next week. Carver is 5-2 and 3-2 in the region. By all accounts, this should be another big test for Smiths Station.
Carver only defeated Lee-Montgomery 19-0 on Friday, though, a team Smiths Station beat 45-12. Is there any reason we shouldn't expect Smiths Station to impose its will against Carver-Montgomery, as well?
If you take away anything from this game, this is what it should be:
It's time to start considering Smiths Station on the short list of state title contenders.
I know a lot of people will still doubt the Panthers simply because of their past. But, really, outside of Hoover, is there a team you would pick against the Panthers with full confidence?
Smiths Station has proven itself time and again and shouldn't be doubted anymore simply because of its novelty among the Alabama elite.
What it did to Opelika Friday night is simply not done to teams as talented as Opelika. But Smiths Station did it anyway. That's how good that defense is.
We missed out on DeVante Marshall in our preview issue.
Our preview issue featured a story on the best running backs in the area, and it included some good ones: Esaias Chapman (Harris County), Justin Crawford (Hardaway), Damarkus Robins (Spencer) and Traveon Samuel (Central).
That list should have included Panthers running back DeVante Marshall.
In seven games, Marshall has rushed for 851 yards and five touchdowns. He picked up 167 against Opelika on Friday. His performances in big games has clearly put him on the short list for offensive player of the year in the area.
And speaking of awards...
At the end of the year, I get to select a coach of the year for the Bi-City, and I'm beginning to wonder if I can end my search now.
Mark Rose has had plenty of success in the past at North Jackson, where he coached from 2000-07, but when he finishes his career, what he has done at Smiths Station has to be at the top of the highlights.
In six years, he has turned a team that struggled to even contend for the playoffs into one of the very best in the state of Alabama. Asked where the win over Opelika ranked among his all-time moments, Rose said it was right around the top.
It's not that there haven't been plenty of great coaching performances in the Bi-City area this year. Pacelli and Randy Grace deserve mention, as do Tommy Parks and Harris County. Demond McCoy should get a lot of praise for the job he's done turning around Russell County, and Calvin Arnold has Spencer in a position to have its first winning season since 1977.
But what Rose has done is most impressive to me. Smiths Station is more than just a good team, it is a team contending for a state championship.
And can I just mention the atmosphere at the game?
I would be remiss if I didn't at least touch on the atmosphere at Opelika on Friday.
Smiths Station, the visiting team, had its section packed to the walls, leaving about 100 or more people standing at the back of the stands. Opelika's home side was just as packed and rocking from the opening kickoff. The bands were loud, the crowd was loud and I was just happy to be a part of it.
I went to college at the University of Georgia in the heart of SEC country. What we witnessed on Friday night was the equivalent of Georgia versus Alabama in the SEC title game, and the crowd knew it. I've been to more high school football games than I could possibly count as a student, fan and reporter, and Friday's game was by far the best atmosphere I've ever been in.
I talked to a couple of Opelika officials to ask them whether they had seen a better atmosphere at their state-of-the-art facility. Upon reflection, they told me no--it doesn't get better than No. 3 vs. No. 5.
Give me your thoughts on Friday night's games. You can Tweet me at @leprepsports or follow on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ledgerenquirersports.