E.A. Sports Today

Wellborn: Out for more

Loaded Panthers open season tonight at Saks with designs on region title, deeper run in playoffs

By Chad Barnett
East Alabama Sports Today

With a limited number of seniors the Wellborn Panthers made another solid run in 2013. Back for more in 2014, head coach Jeff Smith and his veteran team look to reach the next level.

The Panthers return key players throughout the playing field and senior quarterback Landon Machristie leads the way.

The one-time fullback and full-time linebacker is perhaps the toughest at his position in East Alabama. His tough brand of play bleeds over to the defensive side of the ball where the 6-1, 201-pound linebacker will anchor arguably the best defense at Wellborn in the last two decades.

He already has offers from a number of colleges, including Central Arkansas, Illinois State, Coastal Carolina and Campbell.

Machristie will have plenty of help on offense. His entire front five return on the offensive line, junior fullback D.J Rhoden returns for a third season in the backfield and running back Kevin Mixon provides explosiveness.

A college prospect in his own right, Mixon will be relied upon heavily in the Wing-T set.

In addition to Machristie, the Panthers’ defense is counting defensive back Corey Tignor. He made a number of critical plays in 2013 en route to the team’s fifth consecutive playoff berth. He also doubles as the team’s kick return specialist.

While five consecutive trips to the post-season sounds impressive, it’s not enough for a hungry Wellborn squad currently ranked No. 5 in Class 3A.

The Panthers fell painfully short last season against Fyffe in the second round. They had an opportunity to tie the game in the final minutes, but a turnover led to them to watch Fyffe clinch it with a 35-21 final score.

Actually, they’ve gotten to the second round each of the last three years, but their road ended there. Smith has a scheduling strategy this season he hopes will set his team up for a longer post-season stay — he purposely did not schedule a game for Oct. 31, the last week of the regular season.

“We’re trying to stay open (the last week) to keep from being beat up,” Smith told East Alabama Sports Today earlier this summer. “I hope it works. I’m rolling the dice.”

Region titles are also on their mind. Despite the great run over the last three years that saw them compile 26 victories, the Panthers have not claimed a region crown since 1995, also the last time they advanced past the second round.

This team won’t have to wait long to find out how they match up against the toughest opponents. They open the season at Saks (tonight) and Glencoe in their first two games.

Both opponents are expected to have strong campaigns this season. Saks is ranked No. 6 in Class 4A this week and Glencoe is ranked No. 8 in Class 3A.

Tonight — at Saks
Sept. 5 — at Glencoe
Sept. 12 — Pleasant Valley
Sept. 19 — Weaver
Sept. 26 — Moody
Oct. 3 — at Westbrook Christian
Oct. 10 — Piedmont
Oct. 17 — at Ashville
Oct. 24 — at Ohatchee
Oct. 31 — OPEN

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