By John McWilliams/Florence Times-Daily
Deven Sullivan rushed 26 times for 130 yards, including 17 second-half carries, to lead Muscle Shoals a 21-3 Class 5A semifinal victory over Southside on Friday (Nov. 29) at Muscle Shoals.
The win propels the fifth-ranked Trojans (12-1) to their first football championship game in school history, where they will play top-ranked Spanish Fort in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Thursday.
“[Muscle Shoals] is physical up front and all the way across the board on defense,” said Southside head coach Ron Daugherty. “We knew we had a tough game ahead of us. They just took away some of the things that we did well, and we had to resort to other things. While you’re making adjustments and they’re scoring, it’s tough to catch up.”
Southside scored first on Carter West’s 36-yard field goal on the game’s opening possession, but the No. 4 Panthers (13-1) never again made it past the 50-yard line.
Southside senior running back Dantley Coker, who totaled more than 2,400 rushing yards on the season, finished the game with 82 yards on 17 carries. The Panthers as a team were held to 3.1 yards per carry.
The Trojans didn’t trail for long. Quarterback Landon Smothers kept the zone-read option on his way to a 76-yard touchdown run to put Muscle Shoals ahead 7-3 in the first quarter.
Southside was stopped on fourth-and-1 from its own 48 early in the second quarter and turned the ball over on downs. Sullivan made the Panthers pay with a 20-yard run up the middle. He fumbled into the end zone, but teammate Daniel Betancourt recovered the ball for a touchdown and a 14-3 Trojan lead.
Southside attempted a fake-punt pass on fourth down with less than two minutes left in the second quarter, but the Trojan defense held and took Muscle Shoals into halftime with a 14-3 lead.
The Trojans ran the ball 15 of 17 plays in the third quarter, allowing Southside only five plays in the period. Kavonte McDonald capped an 11-play, 58-yard Muscle Shoals drive with a 6-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 21-3 midway through the third quarter.
The Panthers tried a deep pass midway through the fourth quarter, but Martavius Mims intercepted to quell any chance of a Southside comeback.
“The Coker kid is probably one of the better running backs I’ve seen in high school football,” said Muscle Shoals head coach Scott Basden. “He has a lot of power, [but] our players were unselfish. They had to sacrifice their bodies at times to close those gaps, because [Southside] obviously was a lot bigger than we were.”
This story was supplemented by al.com.