E.A. Sports Today

Wellborn edges Anniston

Panthers overcome 4 turnovers, make 2 big fourth-down stops to edge Bulldogs, 12-7 

Douglas 48, Weaver 18
Jacksonville 48, St. John Paul II 0
JCA 40, Success Academy 28 (8-man)
Ohatchee 40, Cleburne County 13
Piedmont 34, Geraldine 14 (jamboree)
Saks 24, Sylvania 14
Wellborn 12, Anniston 7
White Plains 37, Ranburne 21

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Wellborn coach Jeff Smith told his players their season-opener Friday against Anniston was going to be one of those games that took everything they had in their tank.

It’s a good thing the Panthers had a little left in reserve when it got down to the final minute.

The play didn’t result in a touchdown. In fact, it was closer to midfield than the goal line. But without it the result wouldn’t have happened. When Jett Smith sneaked for the first down on fourth down with less than a minute to play, it kept the ball in Wellborn’s hand, the clock running and preserved the Panthers’ 12-7 win at The Hill.

If the Panthers’ quarterback doesn’t make that play, the Bulldogs get the ball at midfield and have a chance to break Wellborn’s heart with a dramatic touchdown.

“There was a lot of pressure on that play right there,” Jett Smith said. “We knew if we got that it was ballgame. They knew if they got it, they’d have a chance to score. It was just a critical moment in the game. When I was in the huddle I told everybody to settle down and I called the play. I saw the lineman kind of jump right there. We just snapped the ball and kept running.”

Wellborn won the game despite four turnovers, a circumstance Jeff Smith chalked up to the emotional pitch of the game. One was an Antonio Kite interception at the 1 and another was Anniston’s Jacques Thomas returning a fumble 86 yards for the first touchdown of the season. The Panthers offset those miscues, though, with two fourth-down stops in the second half.

“We had those turnovers, but our defense made up for it,” Jett Smith said.

In the third quarter with Anniston still holding a 7-6 lead the Panthers stopped former teammate Kentrez Hunt with Smith pulling him back off the line. Then early in the fourth, with Wellborn leading 12-7, they forced the Bulldogs to throw a fourth-down pass short of the yard to gain. They caught the ball at the 11; they needed to get to the 8.

“We got in our heavy formation with the strength of our offense and were hoping we could get a push there and they made a great play,” Anniston coach Rico White said of the first big stop. “The other one we just came up short. Hats off to their defense, they stood up when they had to.”

The Bulldogs’ defense gave Anniston every chance. In the first quarter they stripped Smith in the red zone, Thomas scooped it up and brought it all the way back. They forced three other fumbles, recovering two. Kite, an all-state basketball player, showed his football chops by killing a Wellborn threat late in the first half with an interception at the 1.

“Defensively they played lights out,” White said. “The defense did what they need to do, against a team like this that runs the ball heavy. The defense was able to make stops when we needed them, we just didn’t capitalize offensively. It wasn’t our night. We had all the opportunity in the world and we didn’t do what we needed to do to win the game or at least compete in this game.”

Calvin Spinks put Wellborn ahead 12-7 on a 17-yard touchdown run with 1:33 left in the third quarter and the teams battled it out in the fourth to conclude what Jeff Smith called a great way to renew a rivalry he wouldn’t mind returning on a yearly basis because “it’s so good for the communities.” The teams hadn’t played since 1999, when they played every year since 1978.

“We’ve all heard everyone talk about it, our fathers and everybody we’re kin to, and how much it’s important to them,” Jett said. “Getting this win is real exciting, but we’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to work on to the next game.”

Spinks scored both of Wellborn’s touchdowns, rushed for 90 yards on 15 carries, and intercepted a tipped ball in the second quarter. Smith had 27 carries for 146 yards.

Anniston                7  0 0  0  —  7
Wellborn               0  6  6  0 —  12
A – Jacques Thomas 84 fumble return (Kevin Escareno kick), 2:28 1Q
W – Calvin Spinks 12 run (kick failed), 10:26 2Q
W – Calvin Spinks 17 run (run failed), 1:33 3Q

Ann                           Well
7               1stD        22
24-115  Rush       54-285
9-12-1   C-A-I        2-4-1
117         Pass         36
0-0           F-L            4-3
2-24.0   Punts     1-32.0
8-50        Pen          3-15

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