|Shouldering the Load: NL running back carries Panthers to playoffs|
|Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor|
Nov. 11, 2006 - North Lamar put its playoff hopes on the shoulders of 160-pound running back Antowoine Smith on Friday.
He carried those hopes - and the football - well.
Smith toted the ball a whopping 56 times for 338 yards and five touchdowns in leading the Panthers to a 40-8 victory over the Sulphur Springs Wildcats at Gerald Prim Stadium.
The victory wrapped up a playoff berth for North Lamar (7-3 overall, 3-2 in District 11-4A), and coupled with Mount Pleasant's victory over Lindale, puts the Panthers as the district's top seed in Division II.
Sulphur Springs fell to 2-8, 1-4, breaking a four-year playoff streak.
NL head coach Tommy Felty came into the game with a plan to run the ball, milk the clock and get out of Sulphur Springs with a playoff-clinching victory. He accomplished all three.
The Panthers never attempted a pass, instead they ran the ball on all 66 offensive plays, amassing 390 total yards. They seldom snapped the ball with more than seven or eight seconds on the play clock, allowing them to control the ball for more than 33 of the game's 48 minutes.
Sulphur Springs, which would not have qualified for the playoffs even with a victory due to Mount Pleasant's win, took an opposite approach, throwing on 44 of the team's 54 plays. Sophomore quarterback Tyrick Rollison completed 24-of-44 passes for 247 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The Wildcats ran 10 times for 10 yards.
North Lamar took a 12-0 halftime lead behind Smith's 144 yards rushing in the opening half and touchdown runs of 2 and 1 yards. The Panthers then took command of the game in the second half as they capitalized on three SSHS turnovers.
It was a downer of a Senior Night for Sulphur Springs.
"I feel for these seniors. I appreciate them and the hard work and dedication they gave," said SSHS first-year head coach Greg Owens. "It's a hard night and anybody who has played the game knows that when it's the last one, it's hard.�
"But, I appreciate those young men and their effort to come in and accept us as a staff. They played hard all year for us."
A cool front that blew through in the late afternoon brought with it a strong north wind when the game started. The Wildcats had hoped to use that wind to pin North Lamar deep in its own territory to start the game and take advantage of the short field to get an early lead.
But, it didn't happen that way.
The Sulphur Springs defense forced North Lamar punts on both of its first two possessions, but the Wildcat offense misfired on two fourth-and-long conversion attempts in the first quarter.
"We won the toss. We elected to make them take the ball into the wind first, and that worked out at first," Owens said. "When we did click, we clicked too late. We didn't take advantage of that short field to start the game. It just didn't happen again. "
North Lamar started moving the ball in the second quarter and eating up the clock as well. Smith carried 11 times of a 13-play, 56-yard drive that ended with his 2-yard run on fourth down to give NL a 6-0 lead.
After a three-and-out by Sulphur Springs, North Lamar put together another TD drive, this time Smith carried on all 13 plays of the 62-yard series including the 1-yard scoring plunge with 21 seconds left in the half to put the Panthers up 12-0.
Starting the second half, SSHS turned the ball over on its first two possessions on an interception by Colt Hobert and a fumble recovery by Patrick Thomas. The Wildcat defense held after the first turnover as outside linebacker Brittan Diamond, defensive end Tyler Francis and strong safety Darius Hall stopped Smith on fourth-and-2.
Hall led the team with 17 tackles along with linebackers K.C. Smith and Josh Dunn. Rashad Hall also had a strong game with 11 tackles, while Diamond and A.D. Miles had eight tackles each.
But, after the second turnover, Smith scored on a 31-yard TD run, then he added a 67-yard scoring jaunt to put the Wildcats in a 26-0 hole.
The Wildcats finally got the offense going on their next possession, moving 67 yards in eight plays, the final 18 coming on an 18-yard TD catch by junior DaQualin "Boo" Evans from Rollison. Evans caught eight passes for 69 yards, which was second on the team. Tyler Rhoades ended his high school career with nine catches for 80 yards.
On the conversion, Jeff Beck took the swinging gate snap and tossed the two-pointer to Diamond in the end zone.
North Lamar put up two more touchdowns on its final two possessions - a 1-yard run by quarterback John Faulkner and a 5-yard run by Smith, who converted a third-and-13 with a 20-yard sweep.
Sulphur Springs only had three negative plays all night as Rollison was sacked just twice. But, the Wildcats had a difficult time keeping drives going. They converted 5-of-12 third downs but were 0-for-5 on fourth downs and also had the three turnovers.
"We got put in some long yardage situations, and we can't overcome that," Owens said. "We got our snaps down tonight, but we just didn't make plays."
North Lamar played its defense to make sure the Wildcats weren't going to hit big plays to get them quickly back in the game.
"The whole thing was, they wanted to milk the clock when they got ahead, so they just kept dropping deep and using cover four stuff," Owens explained. "They made us throw it underneath and we just weren't consistent enough doing that.
"We've got to find some answers."