By Cole Frederick/Sports Correspondent
The Gary Nelson era at Southside got off to a rollicking start after the Panthers defeated Lincoln, 40-27, on August 21 at Keith Howard Memorial Stadium.
Southside senior running back Carnel Davis rushed for 222 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries, including a 37-yard score in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
“I’m so proud of Carnel,” Nelson said. “He’s the kind of kid that not just as a player, but as a person, you can hang your hat on. He’s a high character guy. He’s someone I believe in. He’s a great person and great leader. We felt like he was ripe to have a big night. It couldn’t happen to a better kid. I’m proud of him and excited to see what he can do moving forward.”
Lincoln threatened to score on the opening drive of the game, but Southside defensive back Taylor Carr intercepted Golden Bear quarterback Jack Poarch on the 2-yard line. However, the Panthers gave it right back on an intercepted pass a few plays later. The Southside defense stood tall again and forced a turnover on downs at its own 23-yard line.
Davis quickly went to work and exploded through the line for a 26-yard gain on the opening play of the drive. Three plays later, Michael Rich connected with Hayden Robertson on a 19-yard pass to set up a 2-yard score from Davis to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead with 3:53 left in the opening quarter.
Early in the second quarter, Lincoln evened the score at 7-7 on an 18-yard pass from Poarch to Brian Garrett. On the Panthers’ ensuing drive, Rich hit Hayden Fry for a 14-yard gain. Two plays later, he launched a deep pass to Aulden Battles (pictured above) for 44 yards down to the 3-yard line. Davis punched it in on the next play to regain the lead 14-7 with 8:19 remaining in the second quarter.
The Golden Bears threatened to score again on their next drive and had the ball on the Panthers’ 1-yard line, but Southside’s Cody Roberts intercepted Poarch and returned it 102 yards for touchdown to give the Panthers a 20-7 advantage with just under three minutes left in the half.
Lincoln responded with the aerial attack, and Poarch found Garrett three different times on the following drive. Just before the half, Poarch threw a strike for a 60-yard touchdown to close the gap to 20-14 entering halftime.
Southside’s opening drive of the second half stalled, but on the Panthers’ second series, Rich hit Battles on a 66-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to 26-14 four minutes into the third quarter. The Panthers forced another stop on defense and the Southside offense returned with a heavy dose of Carnel Davis. After eight consecutive runs to end the third quarter, Rich found Roberts on a 54-yard strike to push the Panthers’ lead to 33-14 just 13 seconds into the fourth quarter.
Lincoln added another score on a 20-yard scamper by Tre Wilson, but Davis iced the game four plays later on his third and final score of the game from 37 yards out to give Nelson his first victory with the Panthers.
“I’m just proud of how the guys battled through some adversity,” Nelson said. “We had a couple of early turnovers and a really crucial injury to Maddox Parsons. I was honestly a little worried because I’ve never seen our kids compete. I was just worried that if something bad happened, would they fold up and start thinking ‘oh man, this is just like last year.’ Or would they fight through and continue to keep believing?
“We challenged them at halftime time to just keep believing. The way they respond to adversity is going to dictate the outcome, and I’m really proud of the way they did that.”
Rich completed six of 12 passes for 206 yards with two touchdowns. Battles caught two passes for 110 yards and a score, while Roberts snagged two balls for 64 yards and a touchdown to go along with his 102-yard interception return for a touchdown.
The Panthers accumulated 464 yards of offense and scored 40 points, which they only did once a season ago. Nelson attributed the offensive success to the production from skill players and the dominance of the offensive line.
“We actually made an adjustment to the offensive line’s technique and the way they protect a couple weeks back, and it really suits our personnel better,” said Nelson. “They did a good job tonight protecting Michael. Mark Fuller, John Gilbert, Dakota Stevenson, Garrett Orr and Will Warwick – I’m proud of all those guys, but especially for Mark. His family is dealing with tragedy after the loss of his father. For him to come out and play like he did tonight, and for him to have fun – it’s really what high school football is about.”
Southside welcomes Hokes Bluff to Barney-Hood Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 27 for the 71st meeting between the two county rivals. The Eagles have won three straight meetings between the two, including a 21-0 victory over the Panthers a season ago. Nelson said his team needs to improve defensively and prepare for a physical game against Hokes Bluff.
“We’ve got to tighten some things up defensively in the run game,” he said.” “We gave up too many yards. Hokes Bluff is good up front. They’re more physical up front than the bunch we just played, and we had a hard time getting off the field against (Lincoln).
“If we don’t find some resolve on the defensive front and learn to take on blocks a little better and getting guys a little faster to the ball, we’re going to be in for a long night. Coach Rob is going to run it right at you, and we’ve got to improve in our run defense to have a chance.”