By Wil Crews
The Smiths Station Panthers showed a collected resolve in the second half of their game on senior night, but were handily defeated by Auburn, 45-14.
The win for the Tigers (9-0) clinches the Region 2-7A crown, and the loss for Smiths moves them to 3-5 on the year. It’s the first region title for Auburn since 2013–; and they did it in dominating fashion.
Fittingly, on senior night, all the scores from Auburn were made by seniors. The Tigers scored on their first three drives of the game after forcing Smiths to go three-and-out on their first three attempts with the ball.
Smiths looked to get back into the game in the second quarter by flipping the field position, but the Tigers would not be denied. A Smiths punt pinned Auburn at their own 2-yard line but the Tigers put together an impressive 98-yard drive capped by a fourth down, 33-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matthew Caldwell to Bryson Clague. Caldwell finished 10-14 on passing for 194 yards, and Clague caught two touchdowns.
The one blemish on Caldwell’s stat line was a result of a ferocious Smiths’ pass rush. The Panthers broke into the backfield and pressured Caldwell on a second-quarter drive. The QB was spun to the ground and he desperately flailed the ball forward, straight to a Panther defensive end. Still, however, Smiths failed to capitalize on the momentum. Auburn would score once more just before the half – Caldwell to Clague – making it 35-0 Auburn at the break.
The second half was where the Panthers decided to show their fight. Although they found practically no success throwing the ball, Smiths quarterback Cory Minton found some running lanes in the offense’s heavy package. After another Auburn touchdown opened the third quarter scoring, Minton finally got the Panthers onto the board in the fourth with a slick read option keeper from seven yards out. Iverson Jones ran it in for Smiths on the next drive from four yards out to finish the scoring.
In the end, Smiths played hard, but Auburn played like champs. Auburn ran for over 200 yards while Smiths – who has heavily relied on the run game all year – were held to just 89. Jhamier Gore pitched in 21 yards on eight carries and Minton led the team in rushing with 11 carries for 49 yards.
Next Friday, Smiths travel to face the Dothan Wolves (1-6) at Rip Hewes Stadium in an away conference game. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. CST at 1701 Stadium St, Dothan, Alabama 36301.