No. 4 Southside (13-0) at No. 5 Muscle Shoals (12-1)
Last week: Southside 28, McAdory 25; Muscle Shoals 35, Athens 7
Series record: First meeting
By Gene Stanley/Sports Correspondent
It all goes back to Week 10 when Southside High defeated Moody, 34-28. What’s so significant about that win in a season of victories?
The Blue Devils owned an 18-point lead at halftime, but Southside refused to lose.
That type of come-from-behind victory has turned into a trend in the state playoffs, as the Panthers used strong second halves to come out top.
“We like to finish strong,” said senior tailback Blake Devine. “We’re not comfortable when we’re behind at halftime, but we’re confident in ourselves.”
Most of that confidence seems to go back to conditioning.
“It’s conditioning and how much they believe in it,” coach Ron Daugherty said. “Instead of asking if we’re going to run, they know we are and they come to practice ready. These guys will push themselves through when it’s hurting.”
The Panthers will require every bit of their reserve strength on Friday against a Muscle Shoals defense that has six shutouts to its credit while allowing an average of just 4.8 points. Take away a 24-23 loss to 6A Bob Jones in Week 10, and the Trojans have surrendered only three points per contest.
Muscle Shoals is no slouch on offense, either, racking up 378 yards and 42 points per game. The Trojans feature a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in senior Devan Sullivan and junior Kavonte McDonald. Sullivan has rushed 151 times for 1,125 yards and 19 touchdowns, while McDonald has 1,119 yards and 14 TDS on 115 attempts.
Sophomore quarterback Landon Smothers has completed 36-of-65 passes for 616 yards and seven scores.
The team’s top defenders are Garrett Isbell with 148 tackles and Ethon Fleton with 138 stops.
Daugherty related something he overheard on the sideline during the Cullman game, sometime during the second 99-yard drive by the Panthers.
Bateman Stokes said to Kyle Stewart, “This is about as bad as pushing those sleds.” To which Stewart replied, “Almost.”
“That’s what we want to do in practice – push them harder than what they will face in any game,” Daugherty said.
That conditioning has kept the Panthers strong in the second half of every game.
“The best part is when you see in an opponent’s eyes that he’s ready to give up because he’s tired and you’re ready to go 12 more rounds,” said senior linebacker Chance Usry. “That’s when you know you’ve got the game won.”
Senior defensive lineman Madison Hayes said that the spark might leave the opposition’s eyes as early as late in the se-cond quarter.
“But it’s huge in the fourth quarter,” he said. “They can start losing their composure while we’re still going strong.”
Another factor is how close the players are to each other.
“We’re a family-oriented team,” Hayes said. “We work hard but we also pick each other up if needed. You don’t see us fighting with each other.”
The strong finishes aren’t something the Panthers talk about, either.
“Early in the season, we talked about stuff like that,” Devine said. “But after the first three or four games, we just knew that the fourth quarter belonged to us. We give it all we’ve got – all game and until the final buzzer.”