Mistakes have hurt Southside and Sardis so far this high school football season. The team that best corrects its miscues will have the advantage Friday night when the Panthers (0-2) host the Lions (0-1) in the Class 5A, Region 6 opener for both teams.
THINGS TO CORRECT
Asked for specifics of what’s befallen his team in losses to Lincoln (26-20 in overtime) and Class 4A power Hokes Bluff (21-0), Southside coach Ron Daugherty said, "We’re making a lot of mistakes on the edge, a lot of blocking mistakes, a lot of penalties, a lot of people lining up wrong.
“It’s stuff you should be able to correct yourselves, but our kids haven’t been doing it,” he said. “A lot of it is because, as usual, half our team has really never played before and that hurts us. We’re limited as far as skill guys so we’ve got to get guys who are athletic enough to do that ready to play.
“You usually make a big improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 but we had a letdown against Hokes Bluff,” Daugherty said. “When you run into a good team like them and still make mistakes, it’s hard to have a chance. We need to correct our mistakes and get our kids to get after it until the whistle blows on every play, and to buy into everything we’re trying to do for four quarters.”
There were multiple costly moments for Sardis in its 21-12 loss to Sylvania. The Lions had stopped the Rams on their 12-yard line on a third-and-long play midway through the second quarter, but a personal foul penalty gave the visitors a first down and, two plays later, the Rams scored the game’s first touchdown.
“They wouldn’t have had the football if not for that,” Lions’ coach Gene Hill said.
Sardis returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards to Sylvania’s 25, but two straight false start penalties killed the momentum.
“I told the kids Friday we made enough mistakes in the first half to last the entire year,” Hill said, adding that the Lions had one punt blocked because of a missed assignment and another discombobulated when a protector backed into the punter.
There still have been bright spots for each team. Sardis fought back in the second half and had a chance to tie Sylvania with a two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter but failed to convert and the Rams tacked on an insurance score.
“You don’t point out as many good spots as you should because you’ve got to correct the negatives,” Hill said, “but our kids responded in the second half. When you’re down 14-0 you can lose confidence and your kids can fold. We definitely saw things we can build on.”
Daugherty said, “Our biggest losses were in the secondary and defensive line, all but one of the people we’re starting have never played before, Hokes Bluff pushed our line around a little bit, but our secondary has played well. We’ve also had some young offensive linemen step in because of injuries who are grading high.”
ASSESSING THE COMPETITION
Daugherty said Sardis will present some mismatches for his team. He cited 6-foot-6 tight end Jacob Hopper, who has committed to play for South Alabama, backs Luke Morris and Temon Wilson and quarterback Jay Owens.
Hill is impressed by Panther quarterback Michael Rich (“He’s improved, throws the ball well"), kicker Nolan Johnson (“He’s a threat anytime they’re within the 40") and linebacker Chance Moon (“He’s mammoth and does a good job filling the inside”).
He said the Panthers’ aren’t a typical 0-2 team, adding, “You have to consider who they’ve played.”
Southside was the runner-up to Etowah in Region 6 last year at 5-1; Sardis was fifth at 2-4, a game behind No. 4 playoff qualifier Alexandria.
“This game will go a long way toward who’s in the state playoffs,” Daugherty said. “With all the people we’ve got in our region, we feel like we need this one to have a chance to get in.”
Hill said he’s stressed to his team that region play involves just one game at a time, “but as the first one this is kind of a big one. It definitely impacted the playoffs last year and that could very well be the case this year too.”
KEYS TO VICTORY
“We’ve got to get off the bus ready to play as hard as we did in the second half (last week),” Hill said. “We fought back and gave ourselves a chance to tie the game ... and you have to credit our guys. We need to correct the negatives and build on the positives.”
Daugherty echoed that: “If we can eliminate our mistakes, we’ve got a chance to win.”
Southside leads 19-11-2. The teams met for the first time since 1977 last year, with the Panthers (who also were 0-2 at the time) pulling out a 14-10 victory in the final minute, the same result as last season.
“We know every time we play a county team, it’s going to be an all-out battle,” Daugherty said.
SARDIS AT SOUTHSIDE
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Barney Hood Stadium, Southside
RECORDS: Sardis 0-1; Southside 0-2
SERIES: Southside leads the series 19-11-2
LAST TIME: Southside beat Sardis 14-10 in 2018
ANALYSIS: A win would be a big leg up early on in the region postseason race. A loss, meanwhile, could be brutal, from a playoff perspective as well as mentally, for a pair of teams that feel they already should have a win in 2019.