By Chris McCarthy/Editor
As far as Marty Smith is concerned, “garbage time” is not a part of the Southside High football lexicon.
With the host Panthers holding a 43-point lead over Class 5A, Area 7 rival Columbia last Friday, Smith pulled most of his starters midway through the third quarter to provide the substitutes some experience.
The various Panther greenhorns soon discovered just how brighter the glare is between Monday afternoon junior varsity action and a Friday night varsity contest.
Helped by three Panther fumbles, the Eagles scored 30 unanswered second-half points, including a 75-yard touchdown pass on the game’s final play, before Southside exited Barney Hood Stadium with a 43-30 victory.
“The mental discipline wasn’t there when we started subbing,” said Smith. “It was very frustrating because we weren’t lining up correctly we weren’t doing what we’d been taught. They started looking around wanting to make excuses for this and excuses for that when they needed to look in the mirror. I’m going to coach those guys just like I coach my first stringers. They’ve been taught the right things, and there comes a time when you have to step up and do it.”
It was the Panthers first 2-0 start since the 1996 season and most points scored by a Southside team since a 46-26 win over Albertville in 2004.
“Three-fourths of my team wasn’t even born in 1996, so when you look at it from that perspective, we’ve come a long way. But we’ve got a tough Scottsboro team coming in here next week that plays very disciplined football. They’ve got most of their team back just like we’ve got most of our team back, so it’s going to be a barnburner.”
The Panthers dominated on both sides of the ball the first half, rolling up 325 yards and 10 first downs while holding the Huntsville squad to 68 total yards and three first downs. Columbia crossed midfield just twice in the first 24 minutes as Southside built a 36-0 lead by the break.
For the game, Southside (2-0, 1-0) ended up with 562 total yards, with 451 coming on the ground. The Panthers scored touchdowns on six of their first eight possessions.
“We were focused and dialed in tonight about what we wanted to accomplish,” said Smith. “”I’m very pleased with our execution, both offensively and defensively. We shot ourselves in the foot at times, but all in all, we really took strides as a program from the last week to tonight.”
Dantley Coker had a stellar night running the ball, as the junior halfback finished with 202 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just 11 carries.
Blake Devine also eclipsed the century mark, gaining 115 yards on six attempts.
Patrick Lister completed 5-of-8 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed 55 yards and a score.
Justin Denson and Austin Abernathy each had two catches.
Defensively for the Panthers, Hunter Armstrong had nine tackles, followed by Chase Nobles with eight and Ryan Clark with six.
Matters did not go the Panthers way at first. Six plays into the game’s initial series, the hosts coughed up the ball at the Eagle 20-yard line.
The visitors went three and out, however, and Southside had a short field to work with at their own 48.
Three plays into the drive, Lister and Denson connected for 42 yards to the Columbia 5, and Lister took it into the end zone on the next play.
Brady Stephens ran in the two-point conversion, putting the hosts up 8-0 at the six-minute mark of the first quarter.
After another Eagle three-and-out, Southside padded its lead on the next play from scrimmage when Coker took it 75 yards to the house.
Quintin Woods kicked the first of his five extra points, making it 15-0 with 4:05 left in the opening period.
A big defensive play led to the next Panther score. Cody Plyant’s interception set up the hosts at their own 43, while a 29-yard pass from Lister to Holt Keeling moved the ball to the Columbia 1-yard line.
Keeling did the honors on the next play, and Woods’ PAT extended the advantage to 22 points with 39 seconds left in the quarter.
The Panthers picked up where they left off in the second frame. Coker’s 35-yard touchdown run polished off a six-play, 64-yard possession and staked Southside to a 29-0 lead at 7:53.
The hosts tacked on one more score before halftime. A 53-yard run from Coker brought Southside to the Eagle 15, and three plays later Lister found Austin Abernathy in the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown. Woods nailed the extra point, sending the hosts into the locker room with a 36-0 lead.
Most of the Panther starters left the game following Devine’s 49-yard touchdown run with just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Columbia quickly took advantage of the lack of veterans on the Southside defense, as Patrick Lewis’ 63-yard touchdown pass to Janile Bussey at 2:02 got the visitors on the scoreboard.
The Eagles scored on their next series as well, with Darnell Dothard’s two-yard touchdown run making it 43-16 at 10:37 of the fourth quarter.
Columbia then turned a Southside fumble into points on Lewis’ 47-yard touchdown strike to Darrion Leslie with 3:30 left in the contest. Lewis’ two-point run closed the gap to 43-24.
The Eagles added one more score as the game clock expired. On a third and 21 from the Columbia 26, Lewis hit Leslie behind past the Panther secondary for the touchdown.
“For us to get to where we want to go as a program, we all have to be on the same page,” said Smith. “There shouldn’t be any drop-off from the first team to the second team. I tell our kids all the time that we’re only as strong as our weakest link and that every back up is just one play away from playing.”
The Panthers continue region play on Friday at home against Scottsboro.