E.A. Sports Today

Tough opener

Wellborn comes thisclose to winning its season opener, jumps out quickly but falls to North Jackson 21-20

Wellborn’s Javian Thomas (7) rushed for more than 150 yards and three touchdowns Thursday night despite practicing only one day this week because of illness. (All photos by B.J. Franklin)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — When you play football at Wellborn you always play for the win. It might not always turn out, but in situations with the game in the balance the Panthers will always go for the win.

That’s the reason they went for two early in the fourth quarter Thursday night after Javian Thomas scored his third touchdown of the game to get the Panthers back within a point of North Jackson in their season opener at JSU Stadium.

Panthers coach Jeff Smith was inclined to go for simple extra point, but the players came back to the sideline and convinced him to go for it. He liked their confidence and momentum had swung back to their side, so he gave the OK to try it.

Hold your thumb and forefinger about three inches apart; that’s how close they came to getting it. They called Thomas’ number again, but this time the Chiefs stopped him just short of the goal line and then held on the rest of the quarter to drop the Panthers 21-20.

“The kids wanted it,” Smith said. “We were going to kick the extra points and the kids said, ‘No, no, no, let’s go for it; coach, we can do it.’ You’ve got to believe in your team. They all wanted it right there and we went and did it.”

“We play for the win, that’s how we play — that’s Wellborn football,” Thomas said. “We told coach go for the 2. We were feeling good all the way up until they stopped us.”

North Jackson coach Mark Rose said he probably would have done the same thing if the situations were reversed.

Not many people gave the young Panthers much of a chance against the perennial Class 4A playoff team, but Thomas staked them to a 14-0 lead with runs of 25 and 35 yards and a two-point conversion. Calvin Spinks kept the Chiefs off the scoreboard between scores when he knocked down a fourth-down pass in the end zone.

“Everybody was predicting us to lose and we really wanted to come out here and show them we’re not a pushover team like everybody said we are,” Panthers quarterback Austin McQueen said. “I was real confident about it (when they went up 14-0), but I knew it was going to be a four-quarter game regardless of how big we went up, so we had to keep fighting for four quarters. I think we showed a lot being a 3A team and coming one point short. I think we showed tonight how tough we are.”

North Jackson fought back to earn a 14-14 tie at halftime with two big play touchdowns in the final six minutes of the half. The Chiefs took the lead midway through the third quarter when they converted a Ked Harris fumble, but Harris kept the game from getting out of hand later in the quarter when he intercepted a pass in the end zone.

Thomas scored on a 1-yard plunge with 8:57 to play — shortly after a 55-yard burst by Jett Smith — to make it 21-20 and set up the two-point try. On the conversion attempt Thomas saw a small crease that felt like a huge hole, hit it hard, then bounced off several defenders before the Chiefs brought him down short of the end zone.

“We’re always going to want to push for the win,” Thomas said. “If it’s early in the game it might be something we won’t want to do, but if it’s late in the fourth quarter we’ll always going to go for the win.”

Thomas finished with 155 yards rushing and three touchdowns despite practicing only one day this week – Wednesday — because of a strep throat. North Jackson’s Kade Abbott rushed for 244 yards in his first game as a tailback.

“I was pretty sick,” Thomas said. “Yesterday when I came to practice I thought I was about 65 percent at best. I woke up this morning and was feeling a little (shaky) but I bowed up and came out here to help my team out.”

“He showed out tonight, he really did,” McQueen said of Thomas. “In my opinion he’s the best running back in the county, in the state maybe. We have faith in him.”

Smith was extremely happy to schedule the game with North Jackson at JSU, his alma mater, and the atmosphere didn’t disappoint. He said it was a “better environment” than when the Panthers played in the Champions Challenge in Montgomery five years ago.

“This was a physical game; there were a lot of licks passed,” Smith said. “We’ve got to heal ourselves back up and after that get ready to focus on Saks. I feel good about us and I feel like we’ll get better as we go.”

Wellborn’s Calvin Spinks (8) breaks up a fourth-down pass in the end zone intended for North Jackson’s Brady Cooper to keep the Chiefs off the scoreboard

To see a gallery of photos from the game, visit www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com and click on the football file.

[table id=49 /]

Wellborn 6 0 8 6 — 20
N. Jackson 0 14 7 0 — 21

W — Javian Thomas 25 run (run failed), 7:07 1Q
W — Javian Thomas 35 run (Javian Thomas run), 6:40 2Q
NJ — Kade Abbott 66 run (Cade Bellamy kick)
NJ — Brady Cooper 60 pass from Tanner Woodall (Cade Bellamy kick), 2:08 2Q
NJ — Chris Stevens 21 pass from Tanner Woodall (Cade Bellamy kick), 5:58 3Q
W — Javian Thomas 1 run (run failed), 8:57 4Q

North Jackson’s Cade Bellamy (1) knocks the ball loose from Wellborn’s Ked Harris for a key third-quarter turnover. Harris made up for the miscue later in the quarter when he kept the game from getting out of hand by intercepting a pass in the end zone.

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