By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
Southside struggled to contain Class 5A, No. 9 Alexandria’s potent rushing attack, and the Panthers left Lou Scales Stadium with a 41-20 defeat last Friday (Oct. 11).
The Panthers’ promising opening drive ended with a 47-yard missed field goal, and the Valley Cubs (6-0, 4-0) were on the board just two plays later. Running back Ronnie Royal’s 77-yard run set up a 3-yard touchdown run from Nate McCallum to give Alexandria a 7-0 lead.
After a Southside three-and-out, Antonio Ross scored on a 73-yard run to extend the Alexandria lead to 14-0 with 4:31 left in the first quarter.
The Panthers responded with their longest drive of the season, and Carnel Davis capped off the 19-play series with a 2-yard touchdown to close the gap to 14-6 with 7:59 remaining in the second quarter. The touchdown was set up by two big completions from Michael Rich (pictured above) to Aulden Battles.
However, the Valley Cubs answered on the first play of their ensuing drive when McCallum found a wide-open Dustin Warren on Alexandria’s first pass attempt of the game. The play went for an 80-yard touchdown to push the lead to 21-6. Alexandria’s first three touchdowns came in only six plays.
Alexandria forced another Southside three-and-out, and it took the Valley Cubs only five plays to score again. Royal found the end zone on a 38-yard run to extend the lead to 28-6 with 3:47 remaining in the half.
On Southside’s next drive, the Panthers went three-and-out punted deep into Alexandria territory. The Valley Cubs muffed the punt and Southside’s Broady Johnson recovered the ball. The Panthers turned the ball over but quickly forced an Alexandria punt. Rich connected with Battles for a 21-yard touchdown right before the half to cut the deficit to 28-13.
Southside’s first drive of the second half was promising, but a questionable penalty and a sack led to another missed 47-yard field goal. The Panther defense made stops on back-to-back drives to open up the half, but Alexandria’s Seth Slaton picked off Rich and set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Dekari Garrett to extend the lead to 35-13 with 2:42 remaining in the third.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Panthers capped a 12-play drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Rich to Hayden Robertson. But the Valley Cubs answered on a 35-yard scoring run from Royal to push the lead back to a three-score deficit.
Rich completed 15 of his 31 passing attempts for 144 yards and two touchdowns. His primary target was Battles, who snagged seven passes for 75 yards and a touchdown. Robertson’s lone catch was for his first touchdown of the year. Cody Roberts caught four passes for 18 yards. Davis led the way on the ground, as he rushed 25 times for 81 yards and a touchdown.
Royal, an eighth grader, rushed for 171 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries for Alexandria. Ross rushed for 108 yards on seven carries and a score.
Despite the loss, the Panthers (1-6, 1-3) still control their own destiny for a playoff spot but must beat Boaz and Crossville over the next two weeks to clinch the No. 4 seed in Region 6.
Alexandria travels to Etowah this Friday (Oct. 18) for a showdown to determine the winner of the region.
Southside head coach Daugherty said the message to his team will be to regroup and take the positives from the performance at Alexandria and earn a playoff berth for the second straight season.
“That’s us playing to get in the playoffs next week if we can finish it the next week,” he said. “It means we have a home game to still have a chance to be in the playoffs. This team’s been resilient. There’s a lot to build on from tonight. We played hard.”
Specifically, Daugherty said the Southside offense needs to eliminate negative plays, noting that the offense moved the ball well but there were too many negative plays that halted drives throughout the game.
“We have some adjustments to make defensively,” he said. “Offensively, our backs were running hard. It’s just the negative plays. We counted 11 plays in the first half where there was some type of mistake or little thing that we can tweak and get right. We can put it all together and be a pretty good team. I’m proud of the kids for playing hard until the end and not dropping their heads.”