Messenger file photo by Chris McCarthy
By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
A pair of untimely penalties, a busted play and a second quarter miscue ultimately doomed Southside in a 26-20 overtime loss to Lincoln in the Panthers’ season opener on Friday (Aug. 23) at Barney-Hood Stadium.
The Panthers trailed 20-7 at halftime but battled back to tie the game at 20-20 on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Michael Rich to Carnell Davis with 3:57 remaining.
Lincoln’s ensuing drive stalled, and the Southside offense took over on the Golden Bear 46-yard line with 24 seconds left in the game. Rich (pictured above) connected with Davis for a 12-yard gain with 11 seconds on the clock.
Southside coach Ron Daugherty opted for a 52-yard field goal try with senior kick Nolan Johnson, who had already connected on tries from 50 and 37 yards. Johnson’s field goal attempt was blocked, however, and Lincoln took over in Southside territory with just under two seconds remaining.
Javion Surles’ pass was incomplete to send the game to overtime, but the Panthers were called for a personal foul penalty that was enforced in overtime, so the Golden Bears started their drive from the five-yard line instead of the 10. Lincoln running back Cameron Reynolds scored from five yards out on the first play to give the Golden Bears a 26-20 lead (the PAT was no good), and the Panthers were flagged for another personal foul after one of the defensive players protested whether the Reynolds crossed the goal line.
That personal foul forced Southside to start its possession on the 25-yard line. The Panthers only gained five yards in overtime, and the Golden Bears held on for the victory.
Daugherty said there were far more mistakes made than the two personal foul penalties, but he called those penalties “selfish.”
“First of all, it’s the type of thing we talk about a lot,” Daugherty said of the penalties. “Some of those penalties were from kids where this is their first time ever to play. It’s things you can’t let happen. I wouldn’t ever say this about those kids, but those types of penalties are selfish when someone puts wanting to express their feelings above the team. There are a lot of mistakes to look at, and those aren’t the two main ones.”
Both teams exchanged turnovers and penalties throughout the majority of the game.
Lincoln marched down the field on its opening drive, but Surles fumbled on the Panther one-yard line and Southside cornerback Colton Morrison recovered the ball.
The Panthers moved the ball out of the shadow of their own end zone on a 20-yard pass from Rich to Aulden Battles, but a fumbled snap two plays later gave the Golden Bears the ball on the Southside 17-yard line. Three plays later, Surles scrambled for a 14-yard touchdown to give Lincoln an early 7-0 lead with 3:50 left in the first quarter.
Southside responded with an impressive 11-play drive that was capped off by a 1-yard touchdown on a quarterback sneak from Rich, and Johnson’s extra point evened the score at 7-7 with 11:07 remaining in the second quarter.
On the very next play from scrimmage, Surles hurled a deep pass that was intercepted by Morrison. Both teams played to a stalemate for the next several possessions, but Lincoln scored with 1:07 left in the half on a busted play. Surles scrambled around and evaded several Panther defenders before launching a deep pass to Brian Garrett, who caught the pass and scampered into the end zone for a 69-yard touchdown. The Golden Bears’ two-point conversion attempt failed.
Southside took over with a minute to go, but an interception on the very first play of the drive set up Lincoln in the red zone. Surles scrambled for his second touchdown of the half on a four-yard run to give the Golden Bears a 20-7 halftime advantage.
Lincoln gained over 200 yards of offense in the first half, but it was a different story over the final 24 minutes.
Southside’s defense – with only three returning starters from a season ago – stymied the Golden Bears as they held them to only 36 yards of total offense third and fourth quarter. Lincoln did not complete a pass and twice turned the ball over. Southside defensive lineman Cordale Walls recovered a fumble, and Johnson recovered another on a kickoff.
“Coach (Jake) Nichols and Coach (Charles) Nails and (the defensive staff) do a good job, and the kids stopped making some of the mistakes they were making (in the first half),” Daugherty said. “It’s just young kids learning and growing up. Our older kids played all out. When we got a chance to hit (Lincoln), we hit them hard.
“(Lincoln) put the ball on the ground a couple of times and helped us out. I always say we have to execute and take care of the ball. Part of executing is lining up right, not going for the kill shot and making sure of the tackle and making sure of the block. We got better from the first half to the second half tonight.”
Daugherty said he was proud of the way his team battled back in the second half.
“They grew up a lot,” he said. “(Going) into this game, the main thing I was thinking was that I’m so excited because I’m going to get to answer some questions about kids I’ve never really seen in the fire. We answered a lot of questions.”
Blake Reed led the Panthers’ offense with 84 yards on 16 carries, while Davis had 65 total yards and a touchdown. Rich finished 8-for-21 for 74 yards and one touchdown.
Southside hits the road this Thursday (Aug. 29) to play Etowah County rival Hokes Bluff. The Panthers won six straight over the Eagles from 2011-2016, but Hokes Bluff has won the past two meetings.