E.A. Sports Today

Panthers roll into semis

Wellborn avenges close loss to Randolph County by taking playoff game, reaches semis for first time since 1995

Wellborn coach Jeff Smith is embraced by Randolph County’s Steve Giddens while clutching the game ball after the Panthers’ 27-20 victory in the Class 3A quarterfinals. (Photos by Jeremy Wortham)

By Jeremy Wortham
For East Alabama Sports Today
WEDOWEE – The Wellborn Panthers continued to add to their historic season Friday night as they edged the Randolph County Tigers 27-20 to advance to the state semifinals for the first time since 1995.
The last time the Panthers (12-1) experienced this magnitude of success, their coach, Jeff Smith, was just starting his first coaching gig as offensive coordinator at Hueytown under coach Mike Battles. That’s also the last time they won 12 games in a season.
“When I got here in the first grade (2009), I’ve never seen a team from Wellborn go to the semifinals,” Panthers quarterback Jett Smith said.
Jett, who has been the team’s wrecking ball throughout the season playing on both sides of the ball, proved no differently Friday. He ran for 124 yards against a stingy Tigers defense that had allowed only 453 yards on the ground all season.
He ran for one score and passed for two others, including the 26-yarder to Calvin Spinks with 2:40 to play to give the Panthers some breathing room after the Tigers closed to within a point with 7:53 to play.
“First off, my wide receivers and offensive line did extremely well blocking to make this possible,” Jett said.
“We had a lot of tremendous effort,” Jeff Smith said. “Our offense blocked well, our backs ran really hard, we protected the ball on a muddy field and defensively we came up with some big stops.”
The win didn’t come easy. After being plagued by back-to-back holding penalties followed by a block in the back on the Panthers opening possession, the Panthers were forced to punt where Randolph County’s Dante Jordan returned it for an 81-yard touchdown.
But after falling behind early, the Panthers managed to settle into the big-time playoff game atmosphere and went to doing what they do best – move the ball on the ground.
Kentrez Hunt scored on the Panthers’ second possession to tie the game. Jett Smith hit James Hill on a touchdown pass to tie the game for a second time late in the second quarter.
“Playing Susan Moore, as good of a team they were, really helped us with this game because we had to play a full game again this week and we were able to keep battling back,” Jeff Smith said.
Randolph County’s Braxton Daniel, who made the game-winning field goal with seconds to spare in the regular-season meeting with Wellborn, missed a 26-yard attempt in the Tigers’ opening possession of the second half. 
“We lost by three points in the final seconds and that really ate us up,” Jett said.
That’s when the momentum really switched sides and the Panthers were able take their first lead of the game when Jett called his own number from two yards out as time expired in the third quarter.
A second score by Dante Jordan got the Tigers close to tying the game, but Daniel missed the extra point attempt. The Panthers answered with the touchdown pass to Spinks.
“As we grew up over the years this group has been to the championship in little league but we’ve never made it this far in a long time and this is just huge for us and our community,” Jett said.
Wellborn will travel to the Field of Champions to take on Piedmont in another region rematch with a trip to the Class 3A title game in the balance. The Panthers beat the Bulldogs at “The Hill” 40-35 in a game that featured one of the headiest and strangest plays of the season when Jett Smith slapped the ball away from a Piedmont player on a punt that didn’t cross the line of scrimmage and returned it for a touchdown.
The winner will advance to the state finals in Auburn to face the winner of the Mobile Christian-T.R. Miller semifinal in the South. The Panthers haven’t played in a state championship game since 1977 and have never won a state title.
“I’m just proud of the team,” Jeff Smith said. “We said we had to score 28 points to beat them. We came up one point short but we won.
“I’ve been around these young men since they were in first and second grade and I’ve watched them grow up and I’ve gotten very close to them. I just want to see them succeed. It’s not about me. I just want to do everything that I can so I can see them be successful.”

Wel (27)RC (20)

Wellborn             7               7               7               6               –                27
Randolph Co.      7               7               0              6               –                20
Scoring plays
R – Dante Jordan 81 punt return (Braxton Daniel kick), 7:39 1Q
W – Kentrez Hunt 5 run (Brandon Ramirez kick), 4:05 1Q
R – Jonathon Prothro 1 run (Braxton Daniel kick), 10:06 2Q
W – James Hill 19 pass from Jett Smith 19 (Brandon Ramirez kick), 2:58 2Q
W – Jett Smith 2 run (Brandon Ramirez kick), 0:00 3Q
R – Dante Jordan 39 run (PAT failed), 7:53 4Q
W – Calvin Spinks 26 pass from Jett Smith (PAT failed), 2:40 4Q

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