Southside hosts Boaz in Times' Game of the Week

Dantley Coker leads the Southside rushing attack this season with 745 yards. (Photo by Dave Hyatt | Gadsden Times | File)

It’s Week 7 of the high school football season, and usually by this time an athlete has seen his share of both positive and negative plays while on the field.

That’s not necessarily the case for Southside’s Dantley Coker.

The junior running back has had just one play for negative yardage and is averaging 124 yards on the ground in 2012.

“It’s incredible,” Southside coach Marty Smith said. “He just gives us an opportunity to pick up very positive yardage.”

Coker, an offensive line that has paved the way for 1,900 rushing yards this season and the rest of the Panthers face a crucial test Friday night as they host Boaz in The Gadsden Times’ Game of the Week.

The game carries significant weight in the Class 5A, Region 7 race. The winner controls its own postseason destiny, while the loser likely will have to rely on outside help to get in the playoffs.

Southside (4-2, 2-2) appears to have a bit of an advantage if it were to come down to a tie-breaker because of its non-region opponents, but that’s something Smith

doesn’t want his team to have to worry about.

“We’ve shared with them if they take care of Boaz (5-1, 3-1), Etowah and Brewer, we’re 100 percent in the playoffs,” Smith said.

No. 5 Fort Payne likely is assured of the region crown, but the next few weeks amount to a round-robin tournament of sorts between Southside, Boaz, Etowah and Arab for the Nos. 2-4 spots. Etowah travels to Arab Friday night with both teams having identical records at 5-1 overall and 3-1 in region. Next week, Southside travels to Etowah and Boaz hosts Arab. In Week 9, Boaz hosts Etowah.

It could end in a four-way tie for three playoff spots, which is why Friday night’s game at Barney Hood Stadium is so important to Southside and Boaz.

Both teams are coming off losses in Week 6. Southside fell to Arab 20-19 in overtime and Boaz lost 24-6 to Fort Payne.

Coker rushed 19 times for 137 yards in Southside’s loss. He has 745 yards on 94 carries and has scored a total of nine touchdowns, and the Panthers likely will need him to continue his strong 2012 campaign to have a shot at knocking off the Pirates.

“He just runs hard every play,” Smith said. “That’s the beautiful thing about it: He understands getting maximum effort out of his body. He makes his one cut, and it’s north and south and it’s always getting positive yardage.”

But it’s going to be tough against a Boaz defense that’s giving up just 223 yards and 13 points per game this season. Brandon Holland, a linebacker, leads the team in tackles with 63, while defensive lineman Terrell Woods has 23 stops for a loss.

“They read and react very well,” Smith said of the Pirate defense. “They do not miss tackles. Every yard counts. Every penalty yard counts. From a defensive perspective, they’re just very fundamentally sound.”

Also needing to make an impact for the Panthers Friday night will be Blake Devine. A do-it-all type back, Devine is averaging 13.7 yards per carry and also has a 13.6 yard average receiving. He’s scored two touchdowns on the ground and two through the air.

Should the run game get bogged down, it will be up to Southside quarterback Patrick Lister to move the Panthers down the field. He’s passed for 500 yards and five touchdowns while adding two more scores on the ground.

Boaz features the dangerous duo of quarterback Casey Wood and wide receiver Peyton Gilliland. Wood, a senior, is one of the area’s top quarterbacks and has completed 69 of 104 passes for 1,033 yards, 13 touchdowns and two interceptions while adding four scores on the ground. Gilliland is just a freshman but has made a big impact for the Pirates, catching 28 passes for 571 yards and four touchdowns. He has seven total touchdowns on the season.

“Peyton Gilliland has come in and given them a go-to receiver,” Smith said. “The quarterback, No. 12, is a competitor. He’s also a gamer. When you look at him on film, he’s not the most athletic person. When you look at him on film, he doesn’t have the strongest arm. But he knows where to deliver the ball and he’s very crafty at what he does.

“From a defensive standpoint, we’ve got to be very fundamentally sound in what we’re doing and make sure when he does break containment that we don’t lose our coverage with receivers and that we make him have to make hard decisions.”

A win Friday night would equal the most victories by a Panther team since 2009. Southside has not won more than five games in a season since 1996, and Smith hopes playing at home gives his team an advantage.

“We feed off our crowd,” Smith said. “The support, the attitude, the belief in these kids and the belief in the program just continues to grow week in and week out. The community is really circling the wagons and the kids are responding.

“It’s just an exciting time to be a part of Southside right now.”