Photo: Matthew Rich (left), Andrew Dunston and the Southside High football team lost to Lincoln, 19-8, in the Panthers’ season opener Friday, Aug. 24. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger file photo)
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
Costly penalties and overall lack of experience ultimately doomed Southside High in a 19-8 loss in the Panthers’ season opener at Lincoln on Friday, Aug. 24 at Keith Howard Memorial Stadium.
It appeared as if the Southside (0-1) and the Golden Bears would play to a first half stalemate when Lincoln kicker Stephen Pope missed a 50-yard field goal attempt with less than 30 seconds remaining until halftime. Southside was flagged for roughing the kicker, however, a penalty that set up Lincoln with a first-and-10 on the Panthers’ 17-yard line.
On the ensuing play, Lincoln (1-0) quarterback Javion Surles escaped pressure and dashed into the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown run with 11 seconds left in the second quarter. Pope’s extra point gave the Golden Bears a 7-0 halftime lead.
“Those (penalties) are the type of things that we talk about – especially early in the season – that you can’t afford when you’re a team like us that strives on trying to do the right thing and not make mistakes,” said Southside coach Ron Daugherty.
Lincoln received the kickoff to start the second half and marched down the field on a 10-play scoring drive that culminated with a 30-yard field goal from Pope. Lincoln led 10-0 with 7:07 remaining in the third quarter and forced a Southside three-and-out on the Panthers’ first drive of the second half.
The Golden Bears made their way into the red zone again, but the Southside defense stood tall for the second straight drive. Pope connected on a 28-yard field goal with 2:03 left in the third quarter to give Lincoln a 13-0 lead.
After a Southside turnover, Lincoln was once again set up with solid field position on the Panthers’ 38-yard line. After one first down, the Golden Bears were forced to settle for a 47-yard field goal attempt. Unfortunately for the Panthers, Pope’s field goal try was successful, and the Golden Bears extending their lead to 16-0 with 11:01 remaining in the game.
On Southside’s first play of the following drive, however, sophomore quarterback Michael Rich dropped back and delivered a strike to running back Blake Reed down the middle of the field. Reed evaded two Lincoln defenders and sprinted to the end zone for an 80-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 16-6.
On the two-point conversion attempt, nose guard Chance Moon took a direct snap and bullied his way over a Lincoln defender to trim the margin to 16-8 with 10:47 remaining in the game.
Needing a stop, the Panthers tackled Lincoln running back Shamar Hampton for a six-yard loss on first down. However, on second down, Southside was flagged for a 15-yard facemask penalty that gave Lincoln a first down in Panther territory.
Lincoln made its way back into the red zone on several carries from Surles but they were forced to settle for another field goal. Pope sent his 27-yard field goal through the uprights to extend the Golden Bears’ lead to 19-8 with less than 6:16 remaining in the game.
Southside went three-and-out on its next possession, and Lincoln took over on the 50-yard line. The Panthers forced a fumble, however, and senior Matthew Gilbreath recovered the ball with just over three minutes remaining.
On the Panthers’ next possession, Rich found Carnell Davis for 22-yard gain on fourth down to keep Southside alive. However, a pair of sacks forced the Panthers into a fourth-and-31 situation, and Rich’s pass was batted down to preserve the win for Lincoln.
“There are two things I’m not proud of,” Daugherty said. “One, I’m not proud of the score, and two, I’m not proud of some things that I see that we should’ve gotten more reps on. Other than that, I’m proud of how we fought, and I’m proud of how some of those inexperienced kids stepped up and battled. None of them quit on us, and we can win with that with people not quitting on us.”
The Panthers’ sophomore-heavy offense started to jell in the second half, but its issues were exacerbated by the absence of senior running back Kenneth “Cat” Bothwell. Daugherty said Bothwell suffered an injury during the first week of fall camp.
“It’s all about getting a kid where he can practice,” he said. “I couldn’t put (Bothwell) out there when he hasn’t really practiced and gone through everything we do. It wouldn’t be safe for him to play when he hadn’t practiced a whole lot.”
Reed, a sophomore, was Southside’s leading rusher in Bothwell’s absence. In addition to the 80-yard touchdown reception, Reed also rushed for 50 yards on 13 carries. Rich completed 4-of-15 passes for 131 yards, a touchdown and an interception in his first career start.
“There’s no question about the talent and what (Rich) can do,” Daugherty said. “It’s a matter of him getting comfortable back there and us getting the right route and us having the protection. All those things have to fall together.”
Before the game, Daugherty said he told his team there were only about three players who had been tested before during a varsity game. He said he was proud of the way the inexperienced players stepped up in the second half and battled back into the game.
Daugherty also credited his defense with keeping Lincoln out of the end zone in the second half.
“Our defense played lights out,” he said. “They gave up a couple of plays here or there. I was really proud of how they played. Offensively, we would move the ball a little bit, and then we would have a mistake that would put us behind the chains, which makes it hard on us.”
Surles carried the ball 26 times for 133 yards and a touchdown for Lincoln. He was 5-10 passing with 45 yards and an interception. Southside cornerback Brennan Stokes intercepted Surles in the first half. Pope was 4-for-4 on field goals for the Golden Bears.
Southside hosts Class 4A, No. 5 Hokes Bluff at Barney Hood Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 30 for its home opener. The Panthers have defeated the Eagles in six of the last seven meetings, though Hokes Bluff won last year’s contest 30-7.