By Morgan Bryce
Fall-like conditions and a low-scoring defensive battle greeted the Smiths Station faithful for the Panther’s first home game against 5A Valley Friday night.
On their opening drive, Smiths Station’s run-oriented offense grinded its way down the field, picking up first downs and milking the clock in the process.
With six minutes left in the first quarter and on the Ram’s one-yard line, Panther quarterback Corey Minton followed behind the surge of his offensive line and sneaked in for a touchdown. Taylor Walker successfully booted the extra point to give Smiths Station a 7-0 lead.
Both offenses struggled to gain momentum in the second quarter, though Smiths Station had a couple of promising drives snuffed by mistakes and an attacking, solid Valley defense. The score remained unchanged as the teams entered their respective locker rooms for halftime.
After a quick three-and-out by the Panther defense, Smiths Station’s offense was given the opportunity to secure full momentum. A 17-yard carry by senior running back Derrick Jefferson appeared promising, but the Valley defense once again rose to the occasion and gave the ball back to their offense.
In fewer than two minutes, Valley found the endzone and cut the Smiths Station lead to one. However, a shanked Mario Vega extra-point try left the Rams a point behind.
With fewer than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, a gutsy fourth-down call by Valley Coach Buster Daniel returned void, leaving Smiths Station with the ball on their own 28-yard line. Needing breathing room in the scoring column, Smiths Station marched down the field and capped off the drive with a beautiful 30-yard TD pass from Devon Wimberly to Logan Galloway, a receiver-to-receiver connection that gave the Panthers a 13-6 lead.
A game-defining moment came from senior Smiths Station defensive end Edward Payne sacking Valley quarterback Willis Kennedy. From there, the Panther offense was able to drain precious minutes off the clock and cement the victory with a chip-shot field goal from punter Sutton Hayes.
Overall, the Panthers finished with 264 yards of total offense, with 161 of those coming on the ground. L.C. Harris and Jefferson combined for 113 rushing yards.
Between Minton and Wimberly, Smiths Station finished 10-of-16 passing for 103 yards and the lone touchdown to Galloway.
No defensive stats were available for this game.
With the win, Smiths Station improves to 2-0 on the season, having outscored their opponents 50-12. Next week, they travel to take on their archrival Central of Phenix City (1-1) at Garrett-Harrison Stadium. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. E.S.T.