Hey, in case you hadn't heard, the playoffs started.
As if teams just wanted to make sure you were still paying attention to them and hadn't decided to take a couple weeks off until winter sports get started, football games in the Bi-City area turned up the drama to the highest of levels on Friday night.
I was lucky enough to have made the long trip to Enterprise to see what, to me, is the best game we've had in the area all season, as Smiths Station defeated Enterprise 41-34 in double overtime. (Carver's triple overtime win over B.E.S.T. Academy tonight sounds like it could give my game a run for its money, but we'll get to that.)
There's so much to talk about and it's already well into Saturday morning, so I'll refrain from any more introduction.
Never miss a local story.
Smiths Station 41, Enterprise 34, 2OT
I tried to capture the drama on a phone call with my dad driving back from Enterprise tonight. Somehow, my words couldn't really do the game justice.
It had everything you want in a football game: Great offense, both running and passing, opportunistic defenses, big plays, dramatic plays, great special teams and, yes, overtime and more overtime.
There are a few things that I want to touch on that I wasn't able to fit into my rushed game story:
The passing game: I touched on this a little in the game story, but I felt it was worth a closer look here. I've covered a lot of Smiths Station football this year, and I've seen it win games in a number of different ways--defense, a ground attack, etc. One thing I hadn't seen in the games I covered was the Panthers really hit their stride in the passing game. But that was something coach Mark Rose told me over and over again in practices that his team could do. He praised quarterback Jerrell Gilmore's efficiency, and you can tell how talented the wide receivers are just by looking at them. They have great size and athleticism.
In the win over Enterprise, all of that was on display. Gilmore's numbers were good. Johnny Woods' numbers were great. Ledarion Heath's contribution to the offense can't be overstated. But it's difficult to really describe how in sync they were on Friday night. Gilmore's passes were so crisp to all of his receivers, but particularly Woods, who caught seven for 135 and a touchdown. On one particular play, Gilmore dropped a ball into triple coverage, two defenders in front of his receiver and a safety over the top. The pass was high-pointed perfectly by the receiver and in a place where only he could get his hands on it.
How do you defend that?
If that's something Smiths Station can do on a consistent basis going forward, then you'll be hard pressed to find a team it can't beat.
The tough calls: I asked Rose after the game about three particular plays in the game that had to be the highs and lows of an emotional roller coaster. One that I had circled in my notes was a fourth-and-1 from the Enterprise 45 with about three and a half minutes remaining in the game. Smiths Station led 27-24, and the ball was in that territory late in a game where you'd really like to get that first down, extend the drive and start forcing the opposition to use some timeouts. It's short yardage and you feel relatively confident you have the player that can move the ball far enough.
But what if you don't?
What if you try and come up short and Enterprise gets the ball at its own 45-yard line down three with more than three minutes left on the clock. The team's kicker, Cade Stinnett, has more than enough leg to boot a long field goal to tie the game (more on that later), so do you really want to give it a short field?
That's why I'm glad I can watch the game as a neutral observer and give my opinions after the fact. But it's also why Rose has this team in the Class 6A quarterfinals.
Rose elected to go for it, and Smiths Station made it by the hairs on its chinny-chin-chin. As a result, it ran three more minutes off the clock and punted the ball back to Enterprise, which got it its own 15 with 39 seconds left.
But, yeah, about that Enterprise kicker.
The Enterprise kicker: I've seen a few good kickers this year. Auburn's Sage Ledbetter can kick with the best of them. Smiths Station's own Harrison Jones may not have the distance, but he's deadly accurate more times than not. But Enterprise's Stinnett may be the best of all of them.
From early in the game, I was talking with some others about Stinnett's leg. On kickoffs, the kicker kicked the ball out of the back of the end zone nearly every time. He's a big kid, listed at 6-foot-1, 245 pounds on Enterprise's roster, and that led me to wonder why he wasn't in the game at another position, like linebacker.
When Enterprise got the ball back with 39 seconds to go, the Smiths Station students started singing: "Na na na na, hey hey hey...good bye!"
I looked to the man next to me and said, "I don't know if I'd be singing that just yet."
Sure enough, a hook-and-lateral for 35 yards and a 17-yard pass later, Enterprise is set up at the Panthers 33 with seven seconds left--a 50-yard field goal most high school kickers can't hit.
Stinnett, cool as you please, knocked it inside the right upright, and I'm telling you now that thing was good from 60. The kick forced an improbable overtime that helped make this the best game I've been to all year.
Smiths Station's poise: You can't say enough about the Panthers resilience, can you?
This is a team that won its first eight games before getting run off the field by Carver-Montgomery and falling in a heartbreaker to Central in the season finale, losing the region and falling to the second seed.
As Rose said after the game, everyone counted them out at that point, and now they're one of the final eight teams playing in Class 6A.
That resilience can be applied strictly to this game, as well. It takes a great football team to see a win slip through its fingers in regulation, regroup on the sidelines and go out and win it in double overtime. Make no mistake: Smiths Station is a special team.
Rose said the team has been fighting all year--for wins, for playoff position and for respect.
If it didn't have your respect before Friday, you should take a closer look at what it's done.
Around the area
Well, I was nearly three hours away tonight, but I'll do my best to give some thoughts on an incredible night of football for the Bi-City area. I'll run through the teams as best I can.
Kendrick 12, Dade County 0: Are you surprised about this one? I'm not. The Cherokees were hungry and, frankly, I had already decided this was a game I'd be surprised if they lost. The way the defense played against a very talented Spencer offense last week, I can't help but continue to expect Kendrick to limit opponents' offensive opportunities. The significance of this win can't be overstated: It is the Cherokees first since 1995. Yes, it must travel to Lovett, which has the most impressive resume of any Class AA team, next week. But this season has already been an overwhelming success.
Carver 38, B.E.S.T. Academy 32, 3OT: The other game that could be considered for game of the year, I assume. I wasn't there, but this one sounds like it was a dandy. Unexpected, though. Very unexpected. I'm sure B.E.S.T. is a fine football team, but I never expected it would be able to contend with a proven winner like Carver in this, its first playoff game in program history (only its second varsity season, period). A few takeaways, just from reading about it from our own Ryan Black: B.E.S.T. deserves plenty of praise, but I think Carver players and coaches would be the first to tell you this wasn't how this was supposed to go. Three touchdowns were called back due to penalties, and the missing kicking game led to four failed two-point conversion tries, any of which could have ended the game before the third overtime. If nothing else, this will serve as a reminder to the Tigers that every week counts now. As coach Joe Kegler told me he's stressed to his players, it's win-or-go-home. There are no second chances.
Harris County 24, Glynn Academy 21: This wasn't a gimme for Harris County. It was facing a team that had won five games in a row and appeared poised for an upset. It looked that way early with Harris County trailing, but the Tigers rallied for the win. The game-winning score was a 61-yard run by Esaias Chapman. That kid deserves a plaque at Harris County. He won't be playing at a Georgia or an Alabama like some past Tigers players, but his production is among the best--more than 2,000 yards last year, and if the team keeps playing he may have a shot at that number again. It will get Creekside next week. Creekside is 11-0 with wins over Whitewater, Langston Hughes and McIntosh.