By Chris McCarthy/Editor
Southside wasn’t about disguises and misdirection against Wenonah on Friday at Barney Hood Stadium.
Sparked by a standout rushing performance from senior running Dantley Coker, the fourth-ranked Panthers (11-0) instead grounded and pounded their way to a 30-14 victory in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs.
All but one of Southside’s 46 offensive were runs, with Coker’s number being called 33 times. Operating primarily out of the direct-snap Wildcat formation, the senior halfback ran for 228 of the Panthers’ 259 total yards. He also completed a 22-yard pass.
One hundred forty seven of Coker’s yardage came in the second half when the hosts shut out the Dragon offense while adding 10 points to a 20-14 halftime lead.
The Panther offensive line consistently moved the chains over the final 24 minutes. In Southside’s first two possessions in the second half, the Panthers produced nine first downs while draining more than 13 minute off the game clock.
The Southside defense held the Birmingham squad to 95 yards in the second half, including only 18 on the ground.
After Wenonah’s opening drive of the second half ended with a punt that rolled to the Panther 9-yard line, Southside used 14 plays and over seven minutes to reach the Dragon 7, where on second-and-goal Coker took it around left end for the score. Coker accounted for 83 of the series’ 91 yards, including a 22-yard pass to Blake Devine on a third down and 9.
Carter West’s PAT made it 27-14 with 14 seconds left in the third quarter.
The ensuing Dragon possession netted four yards in four plays before ending with a punt. Taking over at their own 24, the Panthers went to Coker on nine straight plays. His 30-yard scamper brought the ball inside the Wenonah 20, but the drive abruptly ended when Dragons’ Raymond Richardson recovered a fumble at the Southside 12.
The Panther defense once more halted the Wenonah offense, allowing 10 yards in four plays before holding on a fourth down and 7.
Four straight runs by Coker got the ball to Dragon 3, where West booted an 18-yard field goal to extend the Southside lead to 10 points and essentially put the game away.
A 44-yard pass from DeAngelo Jackson to Marcus Williams on the following drive helped the visitors reach the Panther 10, but on a third and goal Chance Usry intercepted a Jackson pass to seal the win with six seconds remaining. Usry also had a pair of sacks.
Southside, which is 11-0 for the first time since the 1980 season, hosts Cullman on Friday (Nov. 15) in the second round.
“That’s what we do as a team,” said Southside head coach Ron Daugherty in regard to the Panthers’ downhill brand of football. “Our kids like to play smashmouth football, especially in the third and fourth quarters. We felt like we could come out what we wanted to do in the first drive of second half and we were able to do that. We really wanted to mix in our regular offense more than we did, but we got to rolling on it. The line really did a heck of a job up front, especially Colton Clay on the lead blocks for Dantley.”
“Defensively, we kept the pressure on the quarterback and also kept their outside containment so [Jackson] couldn’t run out of there. I always know that with [defensive coordinator] Coach [Charles] Nails and the other defensive coaches, if you give them a series or two, they’ll make the right adjustments, and our players will know what they need to be looking for and make adjustments.”
For Wenonah, Jackson was 7-for-18 in passing for 117 yards. Laquarious Cook was the Dragons’ leading rusher with 40 yards on six carries, all in the first half.
Marcus Williams caught four passes for 83 yards.
“[Wenonah] hadn’t faced an offense like ours that’s going to play four quarters of hard-nosed football,” said Coker. “Teams might stop us every now and then when we get in the [Wildcat] formation, but when we keep hitting them in the mouth on every play, we know we’re going to pound them eventually and keep our defense off the field and score.”
Southside answered the bell early on when Devine returned the opening kickoff 76 yards for a touchdown. West’s extra point made it 7-0 just 13 seconds into the game.
Wenonah responded on its initial possession, a 76-yard, eight-play drive that was capped off with Quincy Williams’ 67-yard scoring run.
The two-point conversion attempt failed, however, keeping Southside in the lead at 7:52 of the first quarter.
The Panthers added to that advantage on the next series. Taking over at their own 49, the hosts eventually arrived at the Wenonah 36, where Coker broke free for a touchdown.
West added the PAT for a 14-6 lead.
“We’re a physical team and that’s what we base ourselves off of,” said SHS junior tackle Tyler Carr. “We always talk about going downhill at them and see how they’re conditioned. Our whole game plan was hitting them in the mouth and see what they’re made of. When they want to put it on the offensive line’s shoulders, that’s when we want to take the game over.”
The Dragons came back with an 11-play drive that covered 61 yards and culminated in Jackson’s 24-yard TD pass to Marcus Williams on a fourth down and 13.
Quincy Williams’s two-point conversion run forced a 14-14 tie with 37 seconds left in the opening period.
The Panthers regained the advantage at 6:47 of the second quarter on Coker’s 30-yard scoring run. The two-point conversion attempt was no good but Southside went up 20-14.
The Dragons threatened to score shortly before halftime when they drove to the Panther 26, but Cole Mayo’s fumble recovery with 1:13 left allowed the hosts to maintain their six-point going into the half.
“In the back of their minds, our kids are thinking about all those gassers and running that they do, and this is their payday,” said Daugherty. “We had a couple of mistakes that we have to work on, but I couldn’t be any prouder of how our kids played tonight. We’ll be back in the weight room at 8 in the morning tomorrow and get ready for [Cullman] next week.”