By Wil Crews
The Smiths Station Panthers overcame a plague of penalties and untimely turnovers to beat the Benjamin Russell Wildcats 24-14 in their first away game of the season.
It was Homecoming for the Wildcats, but Smiths Station were the ones who looked at home to begin the game. It was a refreshing start as the Panthers have repeatedly fallen behind early in games this season. This was not the case Friday however, as both the Panther offense and defense began the game strong. After forcing a punt on Benjamin Russell’s opening drive, senior Panther quarterback Corey Minton got the Smiths offense running early. Four first downs later and the Smiths offense faced a third and long from the 25-yard line. On the next play, the dual-threat Minton scrambled outside, broke multiple tackles and scampered into the endzone. An eight-minute opening drive gave Smiths their first lead of the season (or since the gardendale game time) at 7-0 with 1:56 left in the first quarter.
The first-half momentum then came screeching to a halt. Penalties (13 for 125 yards in total) killed drives and the Panthers fumbled the ball three times (one muffed punt), repeatedly giving Benjamin Russell good field position – a free lifeline for an offense that was struggling. Still, the Smiths defense matched the Wildcats’ heavy formations and effectively limited the Benjamin Russell rushing attack. It wasn’t until Benjamin Russell’s fifth drive (after the muffed punt recovery) that they hit pay dirt, scoring on a five-yard touchdown pass to tie the game 7-7 with 2:42 left in the second quarter. Smiths’ Minton was dropping back to pass as he got drilled by a Wildcat defender on the next drive. The ball popped out of the QB’s hands and took an unfortunate bounce, rolling like a bowling ball to the other side of the field where Benjamin Russell would recover. The play flipped field position by 40 yards and the Wildcats soon capitalized to make it 14-7 Benjamin Russell just before the half.
Smiths’ play would turn for the better in the second half. The Panthers methodically drove down the field opening with the ball to start the third quarter and capped off the long drive with a QB sneak touchdown by Minton. It looked too easy, but the Panthers tied the game at 14-14 with 6:51 left in the third quarter. The offense continued to roll as the next drive would provide the most electric play of the game. Minton decided to scramble again on a shotgun snap. The Panther QB broke at least five tackles on his way to a 54-yard touchdown run. The Panthers took the lead once again, 21-14, with 2:41 left in the third quarter.
From there, Smiths limited their own self-afflicting plays and held on to the ball, chewing up clock with long drives on the way to the victory. The Smiths’ offense beat Benjamin Russell at their own game – power running – and the Panther defense continued to make the Wildcats one dimensional by shutting down the passing game. A ten-play drive in the fourth quarter led to a Smiths’ field goal and the Panthers made it a two-score lead with 5:45 left in the game. The Wildcats failed to threaten the rest of the way and Smiths Station emerged victorious 24-14 for their first win of the season. It was the Panthers’ first win in program history against Benjamin Russell.
Smiths lost the turnover battle 3-1 but had a clear advantage in almost every other aspect of the game. Smiths finished with 306 yards on 46 plays compared to 198 yards on 65 plays from Benjamin Russell. Minton and the offense had undeniably their most efficient game of the year. Minton had 125 yards rushing and three touchdowns and his backfield partner Jhameir Gore added to the rushing onslaught with 120 yards of his own. The Panther defense was put in bad situations after the offense’s turnovers, especially in the first half, but repelled the Wildcat offense over and over – holding them scoreless in the second half.
Smiths Station (2-3) play their next game on Friday, Oct. 2 at home against Jefferson Davis (0-5) in a regional showdown. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. CST at Panther Stadium.