By JD McCarthy
For the Opelika Observer
The first time Auburn and Smiths Station met, the Tigers came out on top. But the Panthers will have a chance for revenge and an area title on Thursday.
“You know, to be the man you have to beat the man and Auburn right now is the man,” said Smiths Station head coach Jeff Carrero. “I want to beat Auburn, that’s our goal, to beat Auburn and win the area.”
The last time the Panthers faced Auburn they were coming off a shutout loss to Trinity Presbyterian. This time they are coming off a 5-0 win over Central-Phenix City that saw them improve to 8-4-2 and 2-1 in the area.
“I thought it was our best overall effort on the season,” Carrero said. “I wish we could have gotten better results on the offense, but I know sometimes on offense sometimes it doesn’t happen. But, it’s like, if they’re not scoring, we’re not losing.”
The Panthers had several scoring opportunities to start the game but were unable to convert until freshman David Ramirez scored in the 30th minute. Carrero said he is very excited about his freshman who he said has gotten better every game.
Despite being unable to score any more first half goals, the Panthers controlled the pace of the game and Carrero said he was confident more goals were coming in the second half and that his defense was going to continue to limit Central’s offense.
He didn’t have to wait long as senior Tyler Suggs came out of the break red-hot and scored three goals in the second half to propel the team to the 5-0 win. Braedon Downey also scored a goal and had an assist and Ayden Green had two assists.
While several players shined for the offense, Carrero was unable to single out a defender who stood out above the rest.
“I’m not gonna’ lie, it was just a great defensive effort, a total team effort. All of them did exactly what they needed to do,” Carrero said. “I thought we played them a lot better than we did the first time, which is big.”
With the win, the Panthers can now turn their full focus onto Auburn and ironing out any remaining details.
“It’s so important to have that complete game as we go into Auburn because that’s what we are building to,” Carreo said.
In their first game against Auburn, a 5-2 defeat, it became apparent the Panthers were going to have to make schematic changes to their defense and Carrero is pleased with how his team is adjusting to the changes.
“We want to get the defense right, I think we are working toward it and getting it,” he said. “It’s imperative that we give ourselves an opportunity to win, and if we are giving up goals, we are not giving ourselves an opportunity.”
A win over Auburn would give both teams a 3-1 record in their area, with each having beaten the other. The area winner would then be decided by margin of victory, something Carrero is aware of but has not limited his desire to take down Auburn.
“Even if we beat Auburn and don’t win the area because of tie breakers and stuff, I still want to beat Auburn. That is a big step for our program. Competing with them on an even keel basis is great but to beat them, that is even more important, that’s what we want to do, we want to beat Auburn and that is our focal point.”