Photo: Sardis High’s Temon Wilson (2) stiff-arms Southside’s Broady Johnson during the Lions’ 33-31 victory in high school football last Friday (Sept. 6). (Gary Wells)
By Cole Frederick, Sports Correspondent
After last week’s season-opening loss to Sylvania, Sardis coach Gene Hill challenged his team to respond quickly and improve entering Friday night’s region contest at Southside’s Barney-Hood Stadium.
The Lions did just that as they exploded for 33 points in a pivotal 33-31 comeback victory over the Panthers to improve to 1-1 on the year and 1-0 in region play.
“We didn’t feel like we performed like we were capable of (against Sylvania),” Hill said. “There was lots of improvement tonight. It could’ve gone either way. I still would’ve been proud of our kids either way because they improved so much this week.”
Southside had an opportunity to win the game, but the Panthers missed a 19-yard field goal with 11 seconds left. The kick was attempted from the right hash, and the ball just missed and sailed wide right.
“(Southside’s) probably got the best kicker in the state,” Hill said. “They got it at a bad angle. If it’s the middle of the field, it goes right down the middle.”
It was a back-and-forth contest throughout, and both offenses hit a multitude of explosive plays.
After a Southside turnover on its second play, Sardis took over and quickly scored on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Jay Owens to South Alabama commitment Jacob Hopper. The extra point was no good but the Lions took an early 6-0 lead with 8:16 left in the first quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Southside freshman Cody Roberts fielded the ball on his own 2-yard line before evading several defenders and breaking loose for a 98-yard touchdown. Nolan Johnson’s PAT gave the Panthers a 7-6 advantage. Southside then forced a three-and-out and marched down the field before Johnson’s 21-yard field goal extended the lead to 10-6 with 3:37 remaining in the opening quarter.
Five plays into the Lions’ next drive, Owens was picked off by Southside cornerback Colton Morrison. The turnover set up the Panthers on their own 40, and quarterback Michael Rich connected with Aulden Battles for a 53-yard touchdown strike to push the lead to 17-6 with just under a minute left in the first.
Sardis responded with an impressive 22-play drive that chewed up nearly nine minutes and covered 80 yards. Owens capped off the drive with his second touchdown pass to Hopper from eight yards out to cut the lead to 17-12.
The Lions forced a Southside fumble on the Panthers’ next drive, and the visitors punched in another score just before half time on a 9-yard pass from Owens to Luke Morris. A successful two-point conversion gave the Lions a 20-17 advantage heading into halftime.
On the Lions’ opening drive of the second half, Morris found a seam on a counter play and dashed down the sideline for a 74-yard score to extend the lead to 26-17. Southside responded quickly with a 9-play drive, and Rich found Battles for a 14-yard score to cut the lead to 26-24 with 7:21 left in the third.
The teams exchanged punts to close out the quarter, and the Lions went back to work to open the fourth.
Facing a 4th-and-11 from the Lion 14-yard line, Sardis dialed up a trick play. Receiver Temon Wilson took the handoff on a reverse and threw a jump ball to Hopper, who snagged the pass over three defenders and extended the Sardis lead to 33-24 with 11 minutes remaining in the game.
Sardis made the mistake of kicking to Roberts again, and the freshman returned the ball to the Lion 40. On the second play of the drive, Rich scrambled 38 yards for a score to bring the Panthers within two points.
Sardis threatened to put the game away as the Lions drove down the field again, but a bobbled snap on fourth-and-1 gave the Panthers one last chance with 5:32 left in the game from their own 35.
Southside (0-3, 0-1) methodically marched down the field and made it all the way to the 2-yard line before missing the field goal.
“We shouldn’t have been in that situation with mistakes we made during the game,” said Southside coach Ron Daugherty. “Two things I say every day since I’ve been coaching football – execute and take care of the football. And we did neither consistently tonight. Sardis came in with a great game plan and played hard for four quarters and beat us.”
Morris led the way offensively for the Lions. He rushed 21 times for 223 yards and a score, and he also caught a pass for a touchdown. Hopper caught eight passes for 96 yards and three touchdowns. Owens completed 11-of-20 passes for 117 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Sardis outgained Southside 393-341.
“We had them going in different directions, and it really kept them off balanced,” Hill said. “I was really proud of our kids.”
Rich was 9-18 for 190 yards and two scores, and he also rushed six times for 62 yards and a touchdown. Darryance Wofford carried the ball 21 times for 84 yards. Battles caught five passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns, while Roberts had over 200 all-purpose yards on the night.
Sardis hosts Etowah this Friday (Sept. 13) for another important region game. Southside has an open week before traveling to take on the Blue Devils.