E.A. Sports Today

Saks back on track

Wildcats get back to football, rally for milestone win in their season-opener, 24-14 over Sylvania

By Brant Locklier
For East Alabama Sports Today

It was a surreal scene at Saks’ Jack Stewart Field Friday night as the Wildcats opened their 2020 season. The outcome of the game did not seem as important, but with all the uncertainty in the world these days it was more important to gather at the football field and begin to experience the small things that bring all of us joy in a previous world.

The Wildcats would shake off an opening score by the Sylvania Rams and storm back to take a 24-14 victory, evoking memories of past Saks teams of Jonathan Miller. Last year the Wildcats suffered some key injuries and ended up 4-5, missing the playoffs for the first time in nine years. What would the new world look like was the question going into the game.

The new world is face masks, social distancing and being careful with every move you make to avoid the unseen enemy that is COVID-19. Prior to the game Miller was sitting outside the tunnel just taking in the scene as people were beginning to file in the stadium and pondering what it was like to actually be getting the opportunity to play again. There was a certain peace in that moment.

“It is surreal, but we have made it to this point all right,” Miller said. “We sure want to keep it that way.”

The chills continued as the Saks band played the national anthem and the Wildcats poured out of the tunnel and onto the field; finally, football was again center stage and by the end of the game the new world seemed to be a little better because football was played.

The visiting Rams took the opening drive and marched right down the field, covering 55 yards in seven plays. Sylvania quarterback Brody Smith was 3-of-3 on the drive and got the touchdown on a 20-yard pass to Keanan Wilbanks.

Saks returned the favor by scooting 60 yards in just four plays on their opening drive to get down to the Rams’ 5. Quarterback Sean Parnell led the drive with a 40-yard run on the first offensive play of the game for Saks, but disaster struck as the Parnell had his pass picked off in the end zone and returned to the 3.

A Saks lineman jarred the ball loose and recovered on the next play to put the Wildcats back in business inside the Rams 5 again, but they fumbled it right back on the next play.

The Saks defense began to stiffen on the next two Rams possessions, forcing punts, from which the Wildcats put together two touchdown drives of 60 and 70 yards. Will Mixson broke loose on a 65-yard run to score the first Saks touchdown early in the second quarter. Their two-point ailed and the Wildcats trailed 7-6.

The second drive was highlighted by a 42-yard pass by Parnell to Jalen McCants. Mixson covered the final four yards and to put Saks up 12-7 with just 6:03 left in the half.

Sylvania quarterback Smith, who was 11 of 12 for 108 yards and two scores in the first half, got his team moving against the clock. He connected on a 6-yard pass to Sawyer Hughes with just 25 seconds left in the half to give the Rams a 14-12 halftime lead.

“I felt like our defensive backs were very nervous going into the game; I could see it in their eyes,” Miller said. “They settled down after the first couple of drives and did a good job.

Jashun Protho led the Wildcats with nine tackles and Rickey Garret and Jordan Cosper added five apiece.

Saks struck first in the third quarter when Parnell bolted through the line of scrimmage on a keeper, broke a couple of tackles and raced 52 yards for the go-ahead score.

Both teams went through a bizarre five minutes in the latter part of the third quarter when Sylvania lost two fumbles and Saks lost a fumble, had a pass intercepted, two penalties and 25-yard loss on one play. It was all happening on the Saks end of the field and it seemed as if the Rams would score at some point. 

However, when things returned to normal – a new normal? – the Wildcats had the ball at the Rams 39 early in the fourth quarter. Garrett broke loose on a 27-yard touchdown run moments later and the Wildcats had locked up their first season-opening win since 2018 and 300thwin all-time.

Parnell rushed for 127 yards on 11 carries, while Mixson had 69 yards on six carries.

“Parnell was solid in the passing game and he and Mixson ran the ball well,” said Miller. “The offensive line opened up some big holes and I was proud of the job they did.”

Sylvania                   7  7    0  0  —  14
Saks                           0  12  6  6  —  24
SYL – Keanon Wilbanks 20 pass from Brody Smith (Baylor Rickey kick), 9:07 1Q
Saks – Will Mixon 65 run (rrun failed), 9:13 2Q
Saks – Will Mixon 4 run (run failed), 6:03 2Q
SYL – Sawyer Hughes 6 pass from Brody Smith (Bayley Rickey kick), 0:25 2Q
Saks – Sean Parnell 52 run (run failed), 9:14 3Q
Saks – Rickey Garrett 27 run (kick blocked), 7:55 4Q  

Syl                              Saks
15            1stD        11
33-76     Rush       31-227
14-24-0  C-A-I        6-13-2
149         Pass         77
5-3           F-L            2-2
5-36.0   Punts     3-45.0
5-30        Pen          7-55

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