By Wil Crews

After last weeks’ disappointing loss against the Gardendale Rockets, the Smiths Station Panthers looked to bounce back, opening region play at home against rival Central Phenix City Red Devils this past Friday.

After starting the season 0-2, the typically formidable Central looked unusually vulnerable. But, looks can be deceiving. The Red Devils executed a skillful – almost sinful – game plan to defeat the Panthers 35-7 for their 12th straight victory in the series.

Central received the opening kick and began the first drive of the game at their own 40. The Panthers appeared motivated on defense early – jumping around and clapping at the offense. With what was probably the most resistance the Red Devils saw all night, Central quickly faced a fourth and four before achieving a single first down. First year Central head coach Pat Nix established his never-settling mentality from there. The Devils went for – and got – the first down, before moving methodically down the field. The Red Devils found themselves with another fourth down – this time 1-yard from the goal line – and went for it again. The first touchdown of the game went to Central’s Joseph McKay on the ensuing one-yard run. The Panther defense was jumping no more. They would remain similarly floored for the duration of the game. After a nearly eight-minute opening drive, Central lead 7-0 with 4:18 left in the first quarter.

Although the Panther defense originally appeared confident, the same could not be said for the Smiths Station offense. After a nice kickoff return to the 34-yard-line, the Panthers only managed to go backwards. Three plays later, a punt; and Central had the ball again.

From there, the first half would continue in a blur of dominating play – on both sides of the ball – from the Red Devils. Set up by some sharp passing plays, Central’s Zion Morris carried the ball three yards into the end zone for the second score of the game; 14-0 Central. After intercepting Smiths QB Cory Minton, Central’s Trey Miles rushed into the end zone; 21-0 Central.

The following possession was Smiths’ best effort the first half, but the Panthers were thwarted in the red zone on a fourth down attempt of their own. The Panthers’ next possession, backed up against their own goal line, a fumbled ball was recovered in the end zone by Central; 28-0 Red Devils. After managing only 39 rushing yards with zero completions and three turnovers in the first half, the Panthers headed into the locker room looking for answers. Halftime. Finally.

The Panthers’ play improved in the second half but they were unable to ever threaten the Red Devil’s lead. Central’s Trey Miles got his second rushing touchdown of the game with 0:01 left in the third quarter and Smiths’ Minton scored on a 15-yard run with 5:15 to go in the fourth.

Final score: Central 35 – Smiths Station 7.

In total, the Panthers had four turnovers, two of which led to Central scores. On a positive note, the Panthers managed to score their first points against the Red Devils since 2017 and Minton led the way on offense with over 100 yards rushing and the Panther’s only touchdown. Seven Red Devils finished with double digit rushing yards as starting running back Zion Morris led the way.

The game was more of an indictment on Central’s quality than Smiths Station lack of it. The Panthers were undersized, out-experienced and overshadowed for the second week in a row. However, a few different bounces of the ball and it could have been a much closer ball game. There’s room to build.

Central moves to 1-2 after a difficult early season schedule. Smiths Station also moves to 1-2 and will look for their first regional win in 2020 at home against Prattville next week. The game is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. at Panther Stadium.