Hokes Bluff turns back Southside in season opener

August 30, 2019 chris
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Photo: Hokes Bluff’s Darrian Meads (left) stretches the ball across the goal line before Southside’s Chance Moon can bring him down during the Eagles’ 21-0 victory in high school football on Thursday, Aug. 30, at HBHS. (Alex Chaney)

By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor

It’s not often that a high school football team turns the ball over three times and wins by double digits.
Sparked by a 200-plus yard rushing performance from senior running back Darrian Meads and a stellar defensive effort, Class 4A No. 2 Hokes Bluff shook off the above miscues to pitch a 21-0 shutout over Etowah County rival Southside on Thursday, Aug. 30, at HBHS.
The Eagles (1-0) improved to 39-28-3 in the series between the two schools.
The hosts jumped out to a 14-0 lead by the end of the first quarter and added an insurance touchdown midway through the third period. The Eagles won the battle at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, finishing with 376 total yards while holding the Panthers (0-2) to 111. Until its final two drives late in the fourth quarter when the outcome was already decided, Southside had 30 total yards and two non-penalty first downs. The Eagle defense came up with five sacks and forced five punts, including four three-and-outs. The Panthers had zero yards at halftime.
“I thought that our effort was great tonight,” said Hokes Bluff head coach Mike Robertson. “We had some backup guys on the defensive line and secondary that came in and made some plays. We spluttered a bit on offense, so we’ve got a ways to go. Give Darrian credit, and our offensive line did pretty well in moving the chains [and quarterback] Ashton Gulledge showed why he’s such a great player. [Junior linebacker] Will Clemons was all over the field.”
Meads rushed for 212 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries despite not having practiced all week due to a turf toe injury.
“I was going to put everything on the line against a good Southside team, and I wanted to see what I had,” he said. “My toe was hurting a little bit when we were warming up, but when I got my rhythm going, the pain kind of went away and I just kept focusing on winning. I was telling myself (late in the second half) that I just had to keep going, and I was running like as madman.” Gulledge added 87 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries, while fullback Hunter Burke added 48 yards on seven carries.
Southside head coach Ron Daugherty acknowledged that his young squad could not afford to shoot itself in the foot against a high caliber team like the Eagles.
“Against a good team who is bringing the hat on every play, you’ve got to bring the hat and you can’t make mistakes. We brought the hat at some points tonight but not nearly enough as we needed to.”
Daugherty thought his defense held up well despite the final score.
“We had a lot of bend-but-don’t-breaks, but we couldn’t sustain enough offensively to keep them off the field.”
Blake Reed led the Panthers in rushing with 24 yards on seven attempts. Quarterback Michael Rich was 5 for 19 in passing for 79 yards.
The Eagles cashed in on their opening series, a seven-play, 56-yard drive was capped by Gulledge’s 1-yard TD run. Josh Jones converted the first of his three extra points for the 7-0 lead.
Following a second straight three-and-out by Southside, Meads found the end zone from 18 yards out for a 14-point advantage. A 20-yaard touchdown run by Burke early in the second quarter was wiped out by a holding penalty.
The Panthers recovered a pair of fumbles later in the first half but both drives ended in punts.
Hokes Bluff essentially put the game out of reach on the opening drive on the second half, during which the hosts moved 78 yards in 11 plays to the end zone. Helped by a 43-yard scamper by Meads and a two-yard keeper by Gulledge on a fourth down and 1, the possession ended with Gulledge’s 1-yard TD at 6:23 of the third period.
Robertson pointed to that possession as the turning point in the game.
I thought that broke their backs a little bit,” he said. “That [score] should have put it away, but we fumbled the ball a couple of times later on.”
The ensuing Southside drive ended with a fumble, but the visitors regained possession early in the fourth quarter when Hokes Bluff lost a fumble at the Panther 1-yard line. The Panthers made it to the Eagle 40 before the series fizzled out on a failed fourth down conversion attempt.
Southside reached the Hokes Bluff 30 in the closing seconds before the Eagles preserved the shutout.
“We need team unity and team discipline, all across the board,” said Daugherty. “But I told our kids that their goals are still in front of them. We’re going to address some things that need to be fixed but we’re also going to take away some positives from tonight.”
Both teams begin region play next Friday (Sept. 6). Hokes Bluff hosts White Plains, while Southside welcomes Sardis.
“I thought our guys played extremely hard tonight,” said Robertson. “Maybe we can build on this and get a little better.