Southside beats Etowah 21-17 to win region title
Fri. October 18, 2013 at 11:58 p.m. | By Nick Johnston Sports Writer
Southside’s Blake Devine stretches for a first down as he is tackled by Etowah’s Darius Moore during the Class 5A, Region 7 game at Barney Hood Stadium in Southside on Friday night. (Photo by Dave Hyatt | Gadsden Times)
SOUTHSIDE — In a game destined not to live up to the enormous hype, this one delivered.
In a big way.
Seventh-ranked Southside scored two unanswered touchdowns in the fourth quarter Friday night and beat Class 5A, Region 7 rival Etowah 21-17 in The Gadsden Times’ Game of the Week.
The win secured the Panthers’ first region championship since 1980 and meant a home game in the first round of the playoffs.
“Now I can talk about it,” Southside interim coach Ron Daugherty said of the region title. “I never did mention it to the kids, but of course they knew — they always know. It’s only the second region championship in the history of the school.
“It’s a great accomplishment.”
The atmosphere at Barney Hood Stadium was second-to-none, as thousands filed through the gates more than two hours before kickoff. Both sides of the stadium were filled, and fans were lined up four and five deep in many areas along the fence.
And there were plenty of tense moments for Southside faithful.
Etowah (6-2, 4-2) jumped out to a 14-0 lead and led 17-7 heading into the fourth quarter. That’s when the Panthers went to work, as on the second play of the final quarter, Dantley Coker rumbled in for a 9-yard touchdown. The play was set up by freshman Aleric Williams’ 50-yard run on third down.
Etowah hurt itself on the next possession, as after Paul Ruiz gained enough for a first down on fourth down from the Southside 43, the play was called back after the Blue Devils were flagged for an illegal shift.
Etowah had to punt, and Southside took over on its own 23. After three straight Coker runs, Williams again busted loose, going 40 yards to get the Panthers to the Etowah 20.
Penalties and negative runs then backed the Panthers up to where they faced a third-and-32 from the 42. In the Wildcat formation, Hunter Armstrong faked a run, then threw it deep to Blake Devine, where the senior adjusted to the underthrown pass, caught it and got in the end zone for what proved to be the game-winning score.
It was the first time the Panthers had passed out of the formation this season.
“We don’t run regular offense passes,” Daugherty said with a laugh, referring to his run-heavy attack. “When somebody gives us one-on-one (against Devine), we feel like if you put it out there, he’s going to make a play. That’s what he did. I’m proud of him.”
Southside had to make two more stops, getting interceptions from Holt Keeling and Devine down the stretch to secure the win.
“The emotions are unbelievable,” Southside defensive lineman Saige Dale said. “All of our hard work, the blood, the sweat, the tears on the football field at practice; lifting weights over the summer, all the conditioning. … Everyone brought it tonight when we needed to. Now we’re 8-0 and region champs, and all of our work paid off.”
Etowah coach Drew Noles was disappointed with the loss, but he took a lot of positives out of his team’s effort.
“I’m sick at my stomach now that we didn’t come out on top, but there’s a whole lot of lessons we can take from this. I’ll take complete blame for the loss, but I think our guys were ready to play.”
Were they ever.
While Etowah was outsized across the defensive front, the Blue Devils’ linebackers and defensive backs swarmed to the football on every play.
Offensively, Lamar Thomas was the star. Thomas, who finished with 182 receiving yards on six catches — caught two short passes and turned them into touchdowns — 63 yards and 54 yards — to put the Blue Devils on top by two scores.
Needing a spark, Southside turned to Williams, who raced 65 yards for a score after Thomas’ second touchdown. For the game, Williams rushed for nine times for 157 yards.
“Aleric had a huge game, and he’s one heck of a kid, a young kid,” said Devine, who was held in check for much of the night running the ball. “We made the plays when we needed to, and hung around just long enough to win it.”
The 14-7 score held at halftime, and Jose Mandragon extended the lead to 17-7 late in the third quarter on a 34-yard field goal.
From there, though, it was all Southside.
“They just kept believing,” Daugherty said. “That’s what we preach everyday: Believe that this stuff we’re making you do is for a good cause, and I think they bought into it.”
For the game, Coker ran 23 times for 96 yards and the fourth-quarter touchdown. The Panthers gained 329 yards total.
For Etowah, quarterback Andy Noles went 12 of 17 for 157 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Kordell Rudolph completed 8 of 10 passes for 98 yards and a score.
Paul Ruiz led the ground game with 85 yards on 12 carries.
“I’ll take our team everyday,” Drew Noles said. “I’m proud of their effort, I’m proud of how they carried themselves after the game, proud of the community, proud of our fans and I’m as glad right now to be an Etowah Blue Devil as I was when we got here. I’m glad our team is playing in games like this.”