By Chris McCarthy/Editor
It’s now official. This isn’t your momma or daddy’s Panthers anymore.
For the first time in school history, Southside High advanced to the state semifinals after posting a come-from-behind 28-25 victory over McAdory last Friday (Nov. 22) in the Class 5A state football quarterfinals at Barney Hood Stadium.
The Panthers (13-0), who also set a school record for wins in a season, travel to Muscle Shoals on Friday (Nov. 29).
Trailing 17-7 at halftime, the hosts took control of the game by scoring 21 straight points and racking up 172 yards out of the Wildcat formation.
Dantley Coker had a big hand in the rally. Limited to 33 yards over the first 24 minutes, the senior halfback shredded the Yellow Jacket defense over the final two quarters for 137 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including the eventual winning score with 7:19 remaining in the game.
Meanwhile, the Panther defense essentially shut down the McAdory ground game, allowing just 40 rushing yards, 10 in the second half.
After gaining only 51 first half yards, Southside wound up with 223 total yards to the Yellow Jackets’ 234.
Southside head coach Ron Daugherty was pleased but not surprised at his team’s dominant second-half performance.
“We looked into our kids’ eyes and knew that they were going to bring it. The way our defense just kept battling against an offense like that, it was just unbelievable. That was a heck of a team we just beat with their speed and size. We also had two offensive linemen that hadn’t played much all year rotate in, and they did a great job. I didn’t know if we were going to win tonight, but I knew that our kids were going to fight until we had triple zeros (on the game clock).”
Ivan Rodriguez’s 21-yard field goal with a second left in the first half gave McAdory a 17-7 halftime lead. That score was set up by Kyran Moore’s 67-yard pass to Joran Jones with 25 seconds remaining.
“We felt that we were going to have to get a break being down 10 [points], and basically our problem was that we put the ball on the ground three times,” said Daugherty. “We felt that we were starting to wear them down in the first half, but we had a turnover and didn’t have a chance to stay on them.”
The third quarter was a different story. Southside held the Yellow Jacket offense to 15 yards and no first downs on eight plays while forcing two points. The visitors held the ball for only 2:21 of the period’s 12 minutes.
“We made a couple of adjustments on defense and got some stops,” said Daugherty. “As I’ve said numerous times, give coach [Charles] Nails and his staff a couple of series to figure it out, and they’re going to be tough.”
The Panthers’ initial possession of the second half was textbook downhill football. Taking over at the Yellow Jacket 46, Southside called Coker’s number on eight of the drive’s 10 plays, the majority of the runs straight up the middle. By the time Coker polished off the series with a 4-yard touchdown run, he eclipsed his first half total by 15 yards.
Carter West’s extra point pulled the Panthers within 17-14 at the 4:40 mark.
Southside was forced to punt on its following possession, but the McAdory return man fumbled the ball and Kyle Steward recovered at the Jacket 23.
Four plays later, Hunter Armstrong scored from 15 yards out, and West’s PAT gave the hosts a 21-17 lead at 10:35 of the fourth quarter.
“We changed the way the secondary was, but we kept everything else the same,” said senior defensive end Saige Dale in regard to halftime adjustments. “We don’t drop our heads and we [always] think the score is zero to zero. We just came out and kept battling and played Southside football.”
The ensuing McAdory drive fizzled out after the visitors gained zero yards and committed three penalties in five plays, giving Southside the ball at the Yellow Jacket 45.
Coker reeled off runs of 18, 45 and 2 yards to move the Panthers to the 20, where on a third down and 3 Coker found the end zone to make it a two-possession game.
The hosts were not yet out of the proverbial woods, however.
Starting in good field position at the Jacket 49, the visitors used third-down conversion passes of 24 and 11 yards to reach the Southside 7. Garian Bradley’s TD run and Moore’s two-point conversion pass to Thomas Simmons trimmed the Panther advantage to 28-25 with 5:33 left.
It appeared as if Southside would put the game out of reach on the following drive when six straight runs by Coker produced 26 yards and drained almost four minutes off the game clock.
But the possession ended on the Yellow Jacket 33 when McAdory’s Jasun Overton fell on a bad snap, providing the McCalla squad one final opportunity.
That last chance never really got underway. With 1:25 left in the game, the Yellow Jackets were flagged for five penalties for 30 yards, and McAdory’s final play was a desperation pass from the Jacket 14 on a fourth and 35.
“Not disrespecting any other place, but I feel like it’s a different brand of football that we’re playing,” said Daugherty. “It’s probably something that people haven’t seen since the Notre Dame box.”
Moore was 9-for-22 in passing for 164 yards.
“We didn’t really change much offensively [in the second half],” said Coker. “Wearing the defense down is what we live on. I knew going into this game that we weren’t going to have as much rushing yards, especially with the really good defensive line and the good set of linebackers that McAdory has. Even if they stopped us a couple of plays, we knew that if we kept pounding and pounding that we were going to come out on top, and that’s what happened.”
The Southside offense struggled early on, with the Panthers punting on four of their first five possessions. On Southside’s sixth play of the game, McAdory’s Cory Thomas recovered a fumble at the SHS 33. The Yellow Jackets eventually turned the miscue into points on Moore’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Clinton Powell. Rodriguez tacked on the PAT for a 7-0 lead at 4:40 of the first quarter.
Special teams and defense then came to the rescue for the hosts. A 43-yard punt by Armstrong pinned McAdory at its own 1, and on the Yellow Jackets’ first play of the series, senior linebacker Colton Clay picked off a Moore pass at the 4.
Two plays later, Coker ran in a 2-yard TD run to tie the game at 7-7 at 9:03 of the second quarter.
Another Panther turnover led to McAdory’s second touchdown later in the period. Shaquil Terry fell on a Panther fumble at the SHS 20, and two plays later Moore found Terry in the end zone for a touchdown and a seven-point lead with 2:52 to go in the half.
Rodriguez’s last-second field goal gave the visitors a 17-7 halftime lead.
“I think these kids deserve two more games this year, and I’d love to see us get there,” said Daugherty. “This community has been through some tough time with some changes, but their support has always been there for us. I came to a game here a few years ago when I didn’t even know if they won a game, and this stadium was still packed. These people deserve this, and I hopefully we can keep giving it to them this year and year in and year out.”