Central High will still be seeking its first victory of the 2020 season when it meets Region 2 foe and rival Smiths Station High tomorrow night when it enters the 29th Backyard Brawl at Panther Stadium. Central leads the series 23-5 and has won the last 11 games.
The Red Devils will head into the first region game of the year with a 0-2 record. Central lost its game last week to the No. 7 ranked Class 6A Eufaula High Tigers 38-36, after dropping its season opener to Class 7A No. 4 Hoover, 45-35.
This week is opening week for 7A Region 2 play. Other than Central facing Smiths Station, Auburn plays Prattville, Enterprise plays Dothan, and Jeff Davis has an open week before playing the Red Devils in its region opener next week at Garrett-Harrison Stadium. Central has won the last six region titles and has not lost a region game since Oct, 22, 2015, 17-14, to Enterprise. Otherwise, the Red Devils hold a 35-1 region record over the past six seasons.
“We did not play as well as we should have in all areas of the game,” Central coach Patrick Nix said. “We did not play well on defense, on offense or in our kicking game. We made too many turnovers. All of those things hurt us. We have to battle to improve on our mistakes and keep moving forward.”
Smiths Station is 1-1 as it awaits Central’s arrival tomorrow night. The Panthers received a forfeit victory when Russell County decided to delay the start of its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Smiths Station lost its home opening contest last week to Gardendale, 26-7. Central, 2-0, has not allowed the Panthers to score since a fourth quarter touchdown in the 2017 game and a 62-7 victory for the Red Devils. Central defeated Smiths Station 44-0 last year and 49-0 in 2018. During the 11-game winning streak, Central outscored Smiths Station 505-121, or an average game score 45-11 in favor of the Red Devils. Smiths last won in the series in 2008 by a score of 27-24.
“There is no doubt this is a big rivalry week, but the fact that it is a region game is more important,” Nix said. “That is what we are here for. We want to win region titles and then state titles. All of our goals are still ahead for us. Rivalry games are as big in high school as they are at the college level. I have been a part of the Alabama-Auburn game as a player and as a coach in the Georgia-Georgia Tech and the Miami-Florida State rivalry games. I’ve coached in the Stevenson-North Jackson and Pinson Valley-Clay-Chalkville high school rivalry games. This game is a little different because, while they may be two separate communities, they are so closely tied. The people shop in the same stores, go to the same churches and are friends with each other. I think the rivalry is good for both communities.”
EUFAULA FOUND END ZONE EARLY
Eufaula took a 6-0 lead over Central with 1:41 remaining in the first quarter. Facing a third-and-one at the Central 11, Eufaula quarterback Hess Horne ran a sneak, but broke through the Red Devil defense and ran into the end zone for a touchdown.
The Tigers upped their lead to 14-0 when Hess found Jay’Juan Townsend on a 24-yard touchdown pass. The Tigers tagged on two more points on the conversion to lead by a pair of touchdowns.
Central finally got on the scoreboard Joseph McKay broke loose for a 44-yard scoring run. With the extra point kick by Noah Pell, Central trailed 14-7.
The Red Devils tied the game with a 30-yard pass from Caleb Nix to Jackson Meeks. It was Meeks’ fourth touchdown catch of the season. He appeared to have a TD catch earlier in the game but had the ball knocked loose by a Eufaula defender near the goal line. Eufaula recovered the loose ball in the end zone for a touchback.
Horne scored his second touchdown on a run to give Eufaula the lead once again at 20-14. And the Tigers went ahead 26-14 when a pass by Nix was intercepted and returned for another touchdown.
On a fourth-and-five from the Eufaula 17, McKay ran through the Tigers defense for his second touchdown of the contest. The run and extra point kick cut the Eufaula lead to 26-21.
But Horne led his team on a 61-yard drive in seven plays to up the lead to 32-21.
Central took the ensuing kickoff and drove 65 yards in eight plays to cut the Eufaula lead to 32-29. Nix started the drive with a 45-yard run on the option. The Red Devils reached the Eufaula 7-yard line and then began to struggle, loosing three yards on the next three plays. Facing fourth-and-goal from the 10, Nix teamed up with Meeks once again on a touchdown toss. Nix and Meeks then teamed up on a 2-point pass to cut the Eufaula lead to three points with 6:54 to play.
CENTRAL RALLIED TO LEAD 36-32
Central stopped the next Eufaula offensive possession and forced a punt. The Red Devils took over at the Eufaula 49 with 5:59 to play.
McKay ran twice to gain 15 yards to the Eufaula 34. After a five-yard loss, Nix found Meeks for a 36-yard gain to the Eufaula 3. Zion Morris ran it in from there to give Central its first lead in the game at 35-32. With Pell’s kick, Central led the contest 36-32.
To Central’s misfortune, the lead lasted 50 seconds. Horne connected with Rodarius Thomas on a 69-yard touchdown pass to rip the lead from Central’s hands, 38-36.
On the ensuing kickoff, Eufaula chose to send the ball high and short. Two Central players called for a fair catch but collided with each other, causing a wild scramble for the football. Central came out of the pile with the ball at their own 44-yard line. From there, Central moved the ball to the Eufaula 36. Nix had a 20-yard run to the Tigers 24, but a penalty moved the ball back to the 36. With 51 seconds to play and facing a fourth-and-10, it appeared Central got the gift of the night with a Eufaula pass interference penalty at the Tiger’s 5.
The ball was moved to the Eufaula 21 and Central lined up to play the next down. But officials discussed the play and instead of first-and-10 for Central from the 21 ruled pass interference on both teams, moving the ball back to the 36 for a repeat of fourth down.
Officials said the Central receiver pushed off before the Eufaula defender tackled the Red Devils receiver.
On the fourth-down play, Nix attempted to hit Marquevious Terry for the first down, but the ball sailed high and incomplete to end Central’s hope of a second comeback to win.
Central and Smiths Station will kickoff at 8 p.m., ET. Tickets are limited to approximately 933 fans total for the contest due to COVID 19 restrictions. Fans must wear masks.