By Matthew Martin/Sports Correspondent
If Southside fails to make the state high school football playoffs this year, the Panthers might look back to last Friday’s game against Boaz as the reason why.
After shutting out – and shutting down – the Pirates in the first two quarters last Friday, Southside watched it all go away in a disappointing 27-13 loss in Class 5A, Region 7 action at Barney Hood Stadium.
The Panthers were done in by a sloppy performance that saw them commit 13 penalties for negative-150 yards, run 11 plays that resulted in negative yardage and lose five turnovers.
In fact, two of those turnovers were basically the difference, after the score was tied 13-13 with less than four minutes left in the game.
“Penalties cost us tonight,” Southside coach Marty Smith said. “We lost our composure and we didn’t do a good job containing it.”
Southside’s two biggest turnovers came in back-to-back plays after Boaz had clawed its way back into the game.
The first play was a big interception by the Pirates’ Ryan Smith. The senior stepped in front of a Patrick Lister pass with nothing but the Southside quarterback between him and the goal line. Smith outran Lister, sidestepping the quarterback’s attempt at a tackle around the 5-yard line as he scored the go-ahead score.
Leo Aragon’s PAT made the score 20-13 with 3:16 left in the game. It was the Pirates’ first lead of the game.
On the ensuing kickoff, Southside (4-3, 2-3) failed to catch the ball, allowing it to hit the turf and bounce around. Boaz sophomore Cameron Whitt fell on the loose ball, bringing the Pirate offense back on the field at the 33-yard line.
The second play of the drive virtually ended the game when Boaz’s Peyton Gilliland scored his second touchdown of the game when he scampered in for a 33-yard score. With 2:26 left in the fourth quarter, the Pirates (6-1, 4-1) found themselves with a 27-13 lead.
All of a sudden, Southside’s bench and fans went from being confident and loud to being in shock.
Just a couple of minutes earlier, the Panthers had the ball and the momentum. The sudden tie appeared to be just a minor road bump in the team’s quest for a win that would put them in a good position for one of the region’s four playoff spots.
Smith said the crucial penalties and turnovers were not a rare occurrence. Southside has dealt with these issues for weeks.
“We didn’t keep our composure at crucial times when we needed to make sure we were playing fundamentally-sound football,” Smith said. “This has been a problem all year, and its just being disciplined and having more self control.”
Boaz did not commit the amount of penalties Southside had, being flagged five times for negative-35 yards. The Pirates had two turnovers, a Casey Wood interception in the third quarter that did not hurt the team and a Landon Willoughby fumble with 4:27 left in the game.
That fumble gave Southside the momentum again, although the Panthers started the drive at their own 28-yard line. Still, the play got the Panthers’ side of the stadium on its feet again and making the most noise it had all game.
But just three plays after momentum change, Lister threw the ball to Smith, and the stadium’s noise shifted to the visitor’s side of the field.
Boaz coach Drew Noles said it was an important win for his team, which was a little younger during the game, playing several underclassmen that filled in for injured starters.
“In 13 years (of coaching), I don’t know if we’ve had as sweet a win as this one,” Noles said. “It’s a tough place to play. We were coming off a loss last week, and five or six guys couldn’t play tonight.
“It would have been easy to fold up, and they didn’t. They took the coaching we were able to give them and we had some people step up.”
The Boaz loss last week against region leader Fort Payne, combined with Southside’s heartbreaking 20-19 loss at Arab in overtime, made three of the four playoff spots up for grabs.
The Pirates defeat of the Panthers – combined with Etowah’s win at Arab last Friday – gives Boaz and Etowah the same 4-1 region record, leaving the two teams tied for second place with two region games remaining.
The Arab loss dropped the Knights to 3-2. Southside’s loss to Arab put the Panthers one game out for the fourth, and final, playoff spot.
The surge for that elusive postseason berth began well enough for the Panthers, as they took the opening kickoff and marched methodically down the field. The 12-play, 73-yard drive took 5:11 off the clock and culminated in a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Hunter Armstrong for a 7-0 lead.
Both teams swapped punts for the remainder of the first quarter before Southside got something going on offense once more in the form of a 73-yard, 10-play possession, that saw the Panthers increase their lead on Dantley Coker’s touchdown run, increasing the lead to 13-0 with 5:50 remaining in the opening half.
Boaz had a solid drive on its next possession, but was unable to come away with points following two incomplete passes on third and fourth downs at the Southside 33-yard line. But the drive seemed to bring the Pirates’ offense to life, as they came out after halftime with the same determined mindset.
Boaz got on the board on the opening possession of the second half, driving 67 yards in eight plays. After some near-misses in the passing game in the first half, Wood finally connected on a big play, a 38-yard touchdown pass to freshman Gilliland.
Aragon missed the point-after attempt, leaving the score 13-6 with 9:02 remaining in the third quarter.
Boaz tied the game on Wood’s 1-yard sneak, combined with Aragon’s PAT. The Pirates marched 55 yards in 13 plays during the drive, which covered the end of the third and the first 3:26 of the fourth quarter.
Coker led Southside with 102 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
Lister completed 9-of-17 passes for 144 yards and the three interceptions.
Blake Devine led the Panthers’ receivers with three receptions for 49 yards.
Southside travels to Etowah for a big Region 7 game on Friday.