Messenger file photo by Travis Greene
By Ricky Smith/For Sand Mountain Reporter
In a game that featured two of the best high school running backs in north Alabama, Kenneth Bothwell and Southside prevailed over Christian Collins and Boaz last Friday (Oct. 19), as the Panthers came away with a 45-28 win over the Pirates in a key Class 5A, Region 6 battle in Boaz.
The two teams came into the game with the winner possibly locking up a home game in the first round of the playoffs. Southside improved to 4-4 overall and 4-1 in region play, while Boaz dropped to 7-2 and 4-1.
Bothwell ran the ball 20 times for 233 yards and scored four touchdowns, while Collins had 124 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns. He also added 52 yards passing on a lone attempt and caught three passes for eight yards.
“All week long, we kept preaching to the kids about what had to happen and what they had to do,” said Southside head coach Ron Daugherty. “They were able to block out all the clutter from the week before (after a 25-214 win over Alexandria) and focus on the task at hand and get the job done. Our kids played their tails off, and I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
Bothwell made his presence known on the game’s first play from scrimmage when he scored on a 67-yard run only 20 seconds into the game. Nolan Johnson added the PAT.
Following a nice kickoff return by Taylor Smith, Boaz answered a little over a minute later on a 1-yard touchdown run by Collins. The Pirates had gotten down to the Panther 1 on a 52-yard pass from Collins to Smith. Gerardo Baeza booted the PAT to tie the game at 7-7 with 10:34 left in the first quarter.
Beginning the ensuing drive at the Panther 38, Southside quarterback Michael Rich threw to Blake Reed for 42 yards to the Boaz 20. A five-yard facemask penalty on the Pirates put the ball at the 15. But the Boaz defense stiffened and Johnson came on to boot 34-yard field goal with 8:11 left in the first quarter, giving Southside a lead it wouldn’t give up at 10-7.
Late in the first quarter, Southside drove to the Boaz 3, where the Panthers fumbled a handoff into the end zone. After a scramble, Southside recovered the ball in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Johnson’s extra point increased the Panther lead to 17-7 with 43 seconds left in the quarter.
Bothwell added a 45-yard touchdown run with 9:33 left in the second quarter to push the Southside lead to 24-7.
Boaz then drove 70 yards in six plays to answer. Easton Hardin threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to Smith to cap the drive. Baeza’s PAT cut the lead to 24-14 with 7:34 left in the first half.
Southside scored the only touchdown of the third quarter on a 16-yard run by Blake Reed for a 31-14 lead.
Each team scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, with Boaz scoring first and Southside answering.
Collins had a 6-yard touchdown run with 10:49 left to cap a 16-play, 80-yard drive. Baeza added the point after to cut the lead to 31-21.
“We knew how good their offense was, and how big their kids were,” said Daugherty. “We knew that we couldn’t have our defense stay on the field for the whole game, so all week we preached to our offense that even if we didn’t score, we had to flip the field and take some time off the clock in doing so.”
Boaz attempted an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, and the Pirates appeared to recover the ball at the Panther 48. After a discussion by the officials, it was ruled that Boaz touched the ball before it traveled the required 10 yards, and Southside took possession at the Boaz 48. The Panthers went 48 yards in nine plays to push the lead to 38-21, with Bothwell scoring from eight yards out.
Boaz then went 80 yards in eight plays, with Hardin passing to Smith on a 24-yard touchdown pass. Baeza added the PAT to cut the lead to 38-28.
Another onside kick attempt by the Pirates was recovered by Southside at its own 45, and a 15-yard penalty against Boaz put the ball on the Pirate 40, from where Bothwell sealed the win with a touchdown run down the sideline.
Collins led Boaz with 124 yards on 21 carries. Hardin completed 17 of 36 passes for 185 yards. Smith caught 10 passes for 175 yards.
The Panthers clinched at least the second spot in the region and will host a state playoff game for the first time in four years.
“Our coaching staff has done such a good job all season of telling the kids that the people that we need to believe in are the people in that locker room,” said Daugherty. “And they did, even when the clutter back in the first half of the season was not positive. The kids just blocked it out and kept working. We’ve got a bunch of young and inexperienced kids and we’ve had a very tough schedule, but these kids have pulled together and have gotten better each week.”
Southside wraps up region play this Friday (Oct. 26) at home against Crossville, while Boaz visits Etowah.
Publisher/Editor Chris McCarthy contributed to this article.