By Chris McCarthy/Editor
In the teams’ first meeting in three years, Southside out-gunned Etowah, 48-33, in high school football last Friday (Aug. 19) at Barney Hood Stadium.
With the victory, the Panthers won its third straight game against their county neighbors while improving to 11-25-1 in the series.
“I’m very proud of our kids for stepping up,” said Southside head coach Ron Daugherty. “We’ve been talking all during the fall camp about us having a young and inexperienced defense that we had to help grow up, and they grew up tremendously tonight. We had several guys play both ways tonight, and they all did what we asked them to do.”
Alaric Williams was a huge factor for Southside, as the senior running back finished with 237 combined yards and five touchdowns. He rushed 17 times for 187 yards and four touchdowns and caught three passes for 50 yards and another score.
Although he acknowledged how important Williams’ performance was to the final score, Daugherty pointed out that contributions from other players were crucial.
“If we just hand it off to Alaric on every play, we’re not going to be as good as we can be. We have to spread it around and have to make the defenses respect everything else.
I thought that guys like (Kenneth) Bothwell and (Baylon) Fry and (Triston) Shaw took care of that for us tonight.”
Williams had plenty of help in the ground game, as Bothwell rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. Fry added 62 yards and a score in 12 attempts to give the Panthers 361 yards on the ground.
Triston Shaw was 6-for-12 in passing for 93 yards and a touchdown.
“We could never slow [Southside] down,” said Etowah head coach Drew Noles. “Offensively, we stopped ourselves early by not being able to get first downs. We’d get some yardage and then shoot ourselves in the foot. We also played a lot of new guys on defense, and we lost Lee Green with an injury last week. He’s one of the top defensive backs in the state, and we really missed him back there. But I thought that Robert Romine and Malik Wilson played really well on defense.”
The Panthers score on five of their six first-half possessions, including two touchdowns off turnovers.
Williams’ 51-yard scoring run with 38 seconds left in the half provided the Panthers with some breathing room at 35-20 after the Blue Devils had pulled within seven points with a pair of touchdowns in 19 seconds.
“We told the kids at halftime that we had to come out in the second half and set the tone again,” said Daugherty.
The hosts padded their lead off the opening possession of the second half, when a 9-play, 58-yard drive yielded a 20-yard touchdown run by Williams. Nolan Johnson, who went 6-for-7 on extra points for the night, rammed the PAT through for a 42-20 advantage at 6:59 of the third quarter. The drive was highlighted by a 30-yard run by Williams that gave Southside a first and goal.
The visitors fumbled away the ball on the ensuing drive, but the Etowah defense forced a punt after five plays. Taking over at their own 20, the Blue Devils got inside Panther territory with 23-yard pass from Daulton Hyatt to Andy Noles. Cory Thomas then took it to the house from 37 yards out, and Raul Hernandez’s extra point pulled Etowah within 15 points with 1:05 left in the period.
Southside soon answered that score, however. Williams’ 38-yard kickoff return set up the Panthers near midfield, and the Auburn University commitment helped keep the series alive by converting a fourth down and 1 inside the EHS 20. Three plays later, Williams ran it in from 12 yards out, extending the advantage to 48-27 at the 7:53 mark of the fourth quarter.
The Blue Devils weren’t quite ready to pack it in. On the next possession, Hyatt found Emil Smith for 20 yards and Noles for another 13. With Etowah facing a crucial fourth-and-11 from the SHS 14, the University of Arkansas commitment displayed his scrambling ability by breaking a pair of tackle attempts and making it in the end zone just inside the left pylon. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but the Blue Devils were well within striking distance at 48-33 with just under five minutes remaining.
The game clock was not in Etowah’s favor, though, and Etowah’s onside kick attempt sailed out of bounds to give Southside the ball at the Panther 35. The drive eventually stalled out at the SHS 43, but the hosts drained three and half minutes off the clock, giving Etowah just 1:28 to work with.
A 23-yard run by Thomas brought the ball to midfield, but the Blue Devils lost yardage on the next three plays to end the last-minute threat.
For Etowah, Hyatt completed 13-of-18 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran seven times for 49 yards and a score.
Andy Noles had seven receptions for 90 yards, while Smith caught four passes for 135 yards.
Thomas finished with 134 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 14 carries. Caleb Horton added 36 yards on six attempts.
Romine led Etowah in tackles with 15, followed by Wilson with 14, Lovell Cylar with 10 and Brailen Ball and Justin Harris with six each.
Southside drew first blood when Williams ran 23 yards around right for the score at 3:30 of the first quarter.
The Blue Devils tied it at 7-7 on the following drive with Thomas’ touchdown run up the middle at 1:07.
The hosts jumped back on top with a 10-play, 72-yard possession that was polished off with Bothwell’s 9-yard scoring run at 8:39 of the second frame.
The ensuing Etowah series lasted for all of one play when Southside’s Austin Winningham came up with an interception. Shaw and Williams immediately hooked up for a 32-yard touchdowns pass, staking the hosts to a 21-7 lead at 8:13.
Etowah lost the ball three plays into the next series, a miscue that led to a 6-yard scoring run by Fry with 5:31 left before halftime. That touchdown was set up by Shaw’s 38-yard pass to tight end Gavin Orr.
“When you see blood in the water, you have to go after it, and that what we did in both of those situations,” said Daugherty.
But the visitors pulled themselves together by moving the ball from their 29 to the SHS 29, with all of the yardage coming on runs by either Thomas or Horton. That ground-and-pound strategy eventually set up a 19-yard touchdown pass from Hyatt to Andy Noles while cutting the EHS deficit to 28-13 at 2:22.
Following Etowah’s recovery of an onside kick attempt, Hyatt found Smith for a 55-yard touchdown that narrowed the gap to eight points with 2:08 remaining before intermission.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” said Drew Noles. “We’ve got to find some folks that’ll hit you on defense, and that’s what we’ll work on this week. We’ve got Madison County coming in (on Friday), so it won’t get any easier.”
Southside faces Hokes Bluff on Thursday in the 66th meeting of the two teams. Although the Eagles own a 33-28-3 edge in the series, the Panthers have won the past five contests.
“When you say ‘Southside vs. Hokes Bluff,’ you’ve said enough,” said Daugherty. “Coach Rob will bring his kids in here fighting and ready to go, and we’ll have to be ready for them.”