Things were looking up for the Smiths Station varsity football team in its first game of the 2021 season against Russell County.
The host Panthers received the ball to start the game and, despite two momentum-stunting holding penalties, managed to put together an eight-play scoring drive, capped by a wide-receiver-sweep touchdown courtesy of junior Devyn Pearman.
As the following quarters ensued, however, the Smiths’ offense become more inconsistent, and the defense revealed its weariness from the Russell County rushing attack. The Panthers fell behind just before the half and Smiths Station ultimately fell short of its comeback attempt, losing 29-22 to the Warriors.
The Panthers were led on the night by Pearman, junior quarterback Jackson Greer and senior running back Iverson Jones. The three-headed attack accounted for over two-thirds of the Smiths Station total offense.
Issues began to arise for the Smiths Station early in the game, however. Following their opening-drive score, and a first-drive three-and-out from the Warriors’ offense, the Panthers amassed seven more penalties and committed two turnovers before the half.
Their second time on offense, the Panthers were driving until Greer attempted to squeeze a pass into coverage across the middle of the field and was intercepted by a Russell County defensive back.
The Warriors were buoyed by the momentum and scored a few plays later on a 45-yard touchdown pass by sophomore quarterback Robert Calhoun to senior receiver Dammuon Griffin.
Before the next drive, a cascading downpour fell from the sky. Despite the rain, the Panthers were set up near the 50-yard-line by an excellent kick return, and were soon in the red zone. On first down from the 15-yard-line, the Smiths Station center’s snap never reached Greer’s hands and a Warrior defensive end scooped up the football amidst a dogpile of bodies, returning it to the Smiths’ side of the field.
Seconds later, the Warriors practically mirrored the fumble play as Smiths Station caught a break, picked up a fumble of its own and was back on offense. The Panthers failed to capitalize on their luck, however, and punted back to the Warriors after just one first down.
The next drive, Russell County junior running back Drew Pickett — who was the best player in town on Friday night — pushed his team to near field-goal range. This time, Calhoun found another Warrior receiver in the end zone with just 30 seconds remaining before halftime. Smiths entered the locker room down 15-8.
Russell County came out of the break and continued to apply pressure to the Smiths defense. The Warriors began with good field position on their second drive of the second half and Pickett reached pay-dirt with 1-yard rushing touchdown to give Russell County a 22-8 lead.
Despite some successful passing plays on the following Smiths drive, the Panthers’ attempted response was halted by a dropped pass on a fourth-down attempt near midfield.
The rest of the third quarter went by the wayside, yet Russell County found themselves threatening again early in the fourth. This time, Pickett’s rushing worked his team within the 20-yard line before Calhoun found a receiver on a beautifully-floated fade pass for yet another passing touchdown.
Trailing 29-8, the Smiths offense had little to lose and began to air the ball out — with a great success. The Panthers worked quickly on their next two drives, scoring once with a 35-yard touchdown pass from Greer to Pearman, and again on a 5-yard scamper by Greer to make it a one-score game.
With under one minute remaining, however, it was too little too late. Having already used a timeout, Smiths was forced to attempt an onside kick. The Warriors recovered and held onto the ball until the clock hit double zero.
The Panthers will look to turn things around next week as they host Columbus High School, a Class 4A team from Georgia, at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 27 at Panther Stadium.