SMITHS STATION, Ala. — In a game where Smiths Station had a chance to clinch its first region title since it moved to Class 6A, it was visiting Carver-Montgomery that reminded the region that it could be as good as anybody on Friday at Panther Stadium.
The Wolverines forced a turnover on the Panthers’ second play from scrimmage, returned it for a touchdown and never looked back, winning 41-7 and clinching the fourth and final playoff spot from Class 6A Region 3.
As Smiths Station coach Mark Rose pointed out after the game, only one of Smiths Station’s goals—going undefeated—is off the table. The Panthers (7-1, 5-1) can still clinch the region title in their final league game at Central next week. A loss in that game, however, would drop them to No. 3 in the region and force them to hit the road for the first round of the playoffs.
“Only one of our goals is gone,” Rose said. “That’s going undefeated. We’ve still got our goals in front of us. (Next week) is a rivalry game. We’ve got to go down there and play our best. We’ve got to play better football.”
After playing a near perfect game in a 3-0 win over Opelika last week, the Panthers made too many mistakes on both sides of the ball to win on Friday.
It started on the second play from scrimmage, when running back J.J. Dancy ran around right end, was tackled and had the ball stripped out of his hands as he fell to the ground.
Carver defensive end Ricky Scott scooped up the loose ball and ran 35 yards for a touchdown less than a minute into the game.
Smiths Station lost a second fumble later in the first quarter, but didn’t have to pay for it as the defense held strong and force a three-and-out, but an interception 11 seconds into the second quarter was returned 55 yards for a touchdown by Carver to give it a 20-0 lead, deflating the Panthers bench and crowd.
Smiths Station would turn the ball over one more time before the night was down, totaling four in the game, one more than the three it had committed all season.
“You can’t even do that against a bad team,” Rose said of the turnovers. “And this is one of the best teams in the state of Alabama. I told the team this week they’re the best defense in the region.”
The vaunted Panthers rushing attack was held in check all game, as well.
Leading rusher DeVante Marshall, who went for 165 against Opelika last week, carried 15 times for only 58 yards and a late touchdown after the game was already decided.
The Wolverines showed their mettle on one particular set of plays, stopping Smiths Station on four straight plays inside the 5-yard line with four minutes left in the first half. A Panthers touchdown would have made it a more manageable 20-7 deficit. Instead, Carver took over on downs and marched 99 yards, helped by runs of 24 and 39 yards by Draequon Murphy and Jayland Horne, respectively, to grab an insurmountable 27-0 lead going into the break.
“We got outcoached and outplayed, and it’s my fault,” Rose said. “They just totally whipped us.”
Carver, which has struggled at quarterback in the absence of Jeremy Johnson, who is now at Auburn University, saw some of its best production from that position all season on Friday.
Michael McKenney was 18 of 24 for 177 yards, three touchdowns and one interception against a defense that has allowed just 12.7 points per game entering Friday night.
The Panthers will look to rebound against Central next week, where Central has little to play for other than to keep Smiths Station from winning a region championship.
Friday at Smiths Station
Carver 14 13 7 7—41
Smiths Station 0 0 0 7—7
C—Ricky Scott 35 fumble return (Javontae Davidson run); 11:13
C—Draequon Murphy 1 run (Kick failed); 6:33
C—55 interception return (Kick failed); 11:49
C—Charles Standberry 7 pass from Michael McKenney (Nagee Clay kick); :34
C—Dequarius Thornton 8 pass from McKenney (Clay kick); 4:48
C—Murphy 2 pass from McKenney (Clay kick); 8:46
SS—DeVante Marshall 5 run (Harrison Jones kick); 1:01
Records: Carver-Montgomery, 6-2, 4-2; Smiths Station, 7-1, 5-1. Next: Carver-Montgomery, Oct. 25 at Sidney Lanier; Smiths Station, Oct. 25 at Central.