E.A. Sports Today

Southside stymies Oxford

Early interception return paves way for Panthers to score rare win over Yellow Jackets

By Reagan Payne
For East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD – If there’s one thing that stands out in Southside-Gadsden’s 3-1 start this season, it’s the play of the Panthers’ defense. More to the point, the knack the Panthers have for getting the football away from their opponents.

In four games this year, the Panthers have managed to wrangle 11 takeaways. None perhaps were as big as the interception Ethan Light got in the first half Friday night and returned 85 yards for a touchdown that sent the Panthers to a 35-17 victory over Oxford.

The play turned a potential go-ahead Yellow Jackets touchdown into a 14-3 Southside lead. And for a team that has never beaten Oxford in the regular season and not scored a point on it the last two years that was a huge break.

“I can’t say enough about how hard those guys on defense work for us as coaches,” said Southside defensive coordinator Justin Bowen, a former Oxford assistant. “They have bought in to doing their job every single play. No matter if the result is good or bad, they reset their focus and lock in on the next play.”

The Panthers (3-1, 2-0) received the opening kickoff only to give the ball right back, but Oxford missed a golden opportunity to score an early touchdown and had to settle for a field goal.

Soon after, Southside wide receiver Cody Roberts caught one of Brooks Nesmith’s three touchdown passes to put the Panthers ahead. Hoping to get the momentum back, Oxford’s Miguel Mitchell delivered a huge kick return to the Southside 4, but all hope for the drive was lost when Light scored his interception and brought it all the way back for a 14-3 Panthers lead.

“They have the mentality that if the ball is in the air it’s just as much ours as it is theirs,” Bowen said. “Each week I think are we going to keep this going. Eleven turnovers in four games is incredible and I am so proud of our boys.

“When you are averaging almost three turnovers a game on defense you are going to set yourself up for a great opportunity to win the game no matter who you are playing.”

A blocked punt put the spring back in Oxford’s step as the Jackets inch their way to their first touchdown of the night, a pass from Kamari McClellan to Mitchell. But the Panthers answered with another Nesmith touchdown pass, this one to Daimon Hitchcock.

McClellan quickly answered that touchdown with one of his own, cutting the halftime deficit to 21-17.

The Yellow Jackets really struggled against Southside’s defense in the second half managing only six net yards.

Fans saw a final glimmer of fourth-quarter hope when Oxford recovered a fumble, only for Southside to recover the subsequent fumble on the following run.

It’s been a tough start for a young bunch of Yellow Jackets (2-2, 1-1). They lost their first two games to top two opponents and got one of the games back by forfeit before getting their first win on the field last week at Scottsboro.

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