Panthers make early stand in loss to Auburn

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For over a quarter, the Smiths Station High Panthers battled head-to-head with Class 7A No. 4 ranked Auburn High’s Tigers last Friday night at Duck Samford Stadium. But, that was as much resistance the Panthers could muster in a 34-0 road loss of a Region 2 contest.

With the win, Auburn remains undefeated at 7-0 overall and 4-0 in region play. Smiths Station fell to 5-3 overall and 2-3 in the region. The victory assured Auburn of a postseason playoff berth while the loss did not eliminate the Panthers from the postseason, but did hinder its chances.

“To be in this situation, with a group of kids that have won one game in the last to years, is something else. They were ready for change. They were hungry for change. They did not dwell on the past. They focused on the future. They have stayed positive and enthusiastic from square one. They played hard tonight against Auburn, It says a lot about their character and the families they come from that they can go through what they have for the past two years and play for a new coach with new ideas and working them hard. They see what can happen when you buy into those new ideas and work hard,” Smiths Station coach Mike Glisson said after the loss.

The Panthers held Auburn scoreless until the 9:17 mark of the second quarter. That is when Auburn’s Jay Walker scored on a 6-yard run. The extra-point kick failed. Auburn led 6-0.

Things changed quickly after that. With 4:24 remaining in the first half, Griffin Speaks hit Tommy Nesmith on an 18-yard touchdown pass. The play started a bit of controversy when the Tigers were flagged for a block in the back which negated the touchdown. The penalty was marked off and then Auburn coach Adam Winegarden argued with officials about the penalty which brought on a long review. The flag was eventually waved off and Auburn was awarded the touchdown. With Matthew Rhodes’ kick, Auburn led 13-0.

Any hopes the Panthers had of an upset ended when the penalty was overruled. Within minutes, the Tigers extended their lead to 27-0.

Speaks hit Justin Brooks on a 16-yard touchdown pass with 1:48 to play to make the score 20-0. Then with 55 seconds remaining, Jay Norris recovered a blocked punt attempt by Aaron Diggs for a touchdown. Auburn went to halftime leading 27-0. Diggs also had a fumble recovery in the first half.

In the third quarter, Auburn scored its final points of the night when Nesmith hauled in a 50-yard touchdown toss from Speaks with 4:04 showing on the game clock.

Smiths Station’s offense was held in check all night by the Auburn defense. The Panthers managed only four first downs while totaling 68 yards – 57 rushing on 32 attempts and 11 passing yards with one completion on nine attempts.

Auburn finished the night with 381 total yards of offense – 154 rushing on 41 attempts and 17-of-20 completions for 227 yards.

“Smiths Station was doing a good job of controlling the football and our possessions were becoming limited. It took us a little bit to get going. When we did, it got our guys rolling a bit,” Winegarden said of the second-quarter outburst of scoring for his Tigers.

Auburn will play host to Prattville High this week and hoping to remain unbeaten to set up a region title match with Central High on Oct, 26. Smiths Station is off this week and will return to play on Oct, 26 when it plays host to Prattville in a game that could determine the Panthers’ playoff hopes.