By Shannon J. Allen/Sand Mountain Reporter
The Class 4A Sardis High varsity football team wrapped up its third spring practice under head coach Gene Hill by knocking off Class 5A Southside 14-10, on Monday (May 20) at Southside.
Sardis’ defense forced a third-and-26 situation on the opening series of the varsity game, but the Panthers responded with a tackle-breaking touchdown run of more than 60 yards.
“We’re down 7-0 and should’ve been off the field,” Hill said.
The Lions, who finished 6-5 in 2012, drove inside the Panthers’ 5-yard line before losing a fumble ear-ly in the contest.
“That’s another score we should’ve had,” Hill said.
Braun Pee put Sardis on the scoreboard with a 7-yard touchdown run.
The Lions took the lead late in the second period on quarterback Will Scott’s 60-yard touchdown strike to Brett Rains.
Jesse Hubbard and Austin Hallmark each grabbed an interception for Sardis to stop Southside drives.
“I felt like we were way far ahead on defense than we were last year at any point,” Hill said.
The Lions scored a school-record 422 points last season but surrendered 410.
“With as many guys as we’ve got coming back on defense, I think lot of them are bigger, stronger and a little more confident.”
Dalton Casey proved to be a key addition to the Lion defense at defensive end. The 6-foot-3, 260-pound rising senior had not played football since junior high.
“We finally got him to come back, and he looked really good in practice. You could see him getting better every day,” Hill said.
“He pretty much just put on a show (in the jamboree). He had five tackles for a loss in a half. He was very impressive.
“I think he’s a difference maker. He can move fairly well and he’s got a nose for the football. He can find the football, and sometimes you can’t coach that. He was just around the ball all night.”
Casey’s effort helped offset the absence of Col-ton Salers, who was out following shoulder surgery.
Hubbard, a rising junior, has been a fixture in the Lions’ defensive backfield since his freshman season.
“Jesse played well,” Hill said. “He’s kind of our quarterback back there in the secondary now, and he ran the ball well on offense. He’s going to be a good player on both sides of the ball for us.”
Scott, a rising senior, returns for his second season as the Lions’ quarterback. In 2012 he was 172-of-247 passing for 2,237 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“To me, Will looked bigger and stronger,” Hill said. “He’s gotten bigger, and I think he’s really concentrated on that. When he threw the ball, it seemed like he had a little more zip on it than he did last year.
“You can tell he’s in total control of the offense out there in getting people where they’re supposed to get, and that helps us a bunch with some of the younger guys we’re playing.”
The returning starters on the Lions’ offensive line are Cole Wilson at center and Blaine Pruitt at left tackle.
Hill used Austin Burns at left guard, Wes Haygood at right guard and Josh Brannon at right tackle in Monday’s jamboree.
“I felt like our offensive line played really good. I felt like that was one of our strengths last year, and I don’t feel like we’re going to miss a beat with these guys,” said Hill. “Wes is about 6-3, 370, or something like that. I think he played pretty good. I think he held his own. Josh played sparingly last year. He was a backup for us. He played right tackle, and I think he played really good. I know the guy he was blocking was a pretty good player, and they mixed it up pretty good. Josh has had a good season in the weight room. He’s a lot stronger and a little bit more physical. Austin was a backup for us last year. He’s going to be a senior, and he’s worked really hard.”
Sardis must replace Jacksonville State signee Toby Pee, who rewrote the school’s offensive record book during his career in rushing for 5,494 yards and scoring 88 touchdowns, the eighth-best total in AHSAA history.
“We’ve got three or four backs, and there’s not a whole lot of difference in them. They all ran it hard,” Hill said. “Jesse ran it hard, and Braun ran it good a couple of times. With Keenan Lewis, it’s a learning thing for him.”
Lewis transferred from Douglas, where he rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman.
“We played Bryan Noblitt a lot on offense,” Hill said. “He plays our Will linebacker, but he ran it some last night and he’ll be our fullback some.”
Brett Rains, Tristan McCurley and Austin Hallmark earned praise from Hill for their performances at receiver against Southside.
“Tristan McCurley played receiver some for us last year,” Hill said. “He caught the ball well. He ran some good routes and got open and made some catches. Brett Rains made a big-time catch on a post over the middle for a score. We’ve seen him do that before, and we expect that out of him.
“Austin Hallmark made a couple of good catches. He’s a 10th-grader to be. He’s got some ability, and we’ve just got to get him knowing what to do. Something we’re looking for right now is some guys to step up at receiver.”
The Lions finished spring drills with 70 players.