E.A. Sports Today

Donoho blanked

‘It just wasn’t our night,’ Sanders says, as Falcons shut out by shorthanded Spring Garden 16-0

By Shannon Fagan
Special to East Alabama Sports Today

SPRING GARDEN – Homecoming is supposed to be a time of celebration, but for the Spring Garden Panthers Friday night against Class 1A Region 5 rival Donoho, it became a game of survival.

Coming into the game, the Panthers had four players sick with strep throat, forcing head coach Jason Howard to shift some roles and call on the reserves. But in the end they were able to grind out a 16-0 victory that puts them squarely in the region championship race.

“We didn’t fall into the homecoming trap,” Howard said. “I felt like our offense was very sluggish. It reminded a lot of the Cedar Bluff game. Every time we did something good, somebody on the field did something wrong that negated a good play … It’s things a good team can’t do, but as long as it’s things we can correct, then I’m OK.

“Overcoming all that, it was good to get out with a win and put ourselves in contention for a region championship and a home playoff game. It’s huge. I’m not proud of our execution, but I’m proud we won.”

Both teams couldn’t find the end zone in the first half, but the Panthers (3-1, 2-0) did manage to get on the scoreboard on their second drive of the game. The drive was vintage Spring Garden – 14 plays (13 runs) and 51 yards that ate up almost eight minutes of the clock. The end result was Colby Slayton’s 22-yard field goal that put the Panthers up 3-0 with 2:47 remaining in the first quarter.

Donoho (3-2, 2-1) marched down the field on its ensuing drive, but Slayton came up with another big play on defense when he recovered a James Williamon fumble at the Panther 30 to kill the drive.

The Falcons managed to move the ball to midfield early in the second quarter, but another turnover erased their momentum. This time, Luke Ivey intercepted a Hall Billings pass at the Panther 43.

“It just wasn’t our night; it was one of those nights where everything goes wrong,” Donoho coach Mark Sanders said. “We had 10 guys doing the right thing and one guy didn’t. It cost us yardage here and cost us yardage there. It just happened all night. We just couldn’t get on the same page.”

Maybe not always. Donoho’s defense held on downs on fourth-and-goal from the 15 and Amarion Smedley had an interception on the last play of the half.

After Payton McGinnis was crowned homecoming queen at halftime, Spring Garden came out refocused on its first drive of the second half. The Panthers scored on a 46-yard Riley Kirk-to-Gaines Petty touchdown pass. Slayton’s extra point made it a two-score game at 10-0.

“I sweet-talked them at halftime,” Howard joked.

The Panther defense put the offense back in prime position to score again as Luke Welsh intercepted another Billings pass near midfield. Welsh got the call on the first play after the turnover and dashed 41 yards down to the Falcon 12.

Two plays later, Michael Floyd found the end zone on a 4-yard scamper up the middle. Slayton’s extra point was blocked, but Spring Garden was in control 16-0 with 6:28 remaining in the third quarter.

Another promising Donoho drive began late in the third quarter, but the Falcons turned the ball over again. Dillon Gowens recovered a Smedley fumble at the Panther 22 with 11:07 left in the game.

“It was close (at halftime), but in the second half we had some guys get hurt and we kind of had to rearrange the line a little bit,” Sanders said. “Things just started falling apart. It was just a tough night for us.

“We’re going to rebound and come back next week with a new attitude and a new focus. We’ll fix all the mistakes we made and just keep going from there. We’re going to refocus and keep pushing our team to get better and better. That’s all we can do.”

Rod Elston led the Falcons with 65 yards on 15 carries. Billings was 3 of 11 passing for 29 yards and two interceptions.

Welch had 133 yards rushing on 21 carries for Spring Garden. Weston Kirk added 76 yards on 14 carries.

Shannon Fagan is sports editor of the Cherokee Herald.

On the cover: Donoho running back Rod Elston looks for running room against Spring Garden. (Photo by Shannon Fagan)

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