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Panthers come up short

Southside came up short in its bid to earn its first win of the season in a 42-24 home loss to Calera.

“This is the kind of game that scares you — one of those games you should win, but you don’t really know what to expect,” said Calera coach Mac Thompson. “We played good at times, and other times we played like we’re young. We showed flashes of being great, then showed flashes of being average.”

The Eagles (6-3) set the tone early behind the play of sophomore quarterback Brandon Wells en route to building a 21-0 first-quarter lead. They took firm control on a third-quarter Julian Harris interception return to go up 35-6.

“Part of being a good ball club is not making those mistakes,” said Southside coach Lemuel Jones. “They have haunted us all year, and they continue to haunt us.”

The Panthers (0-9) made a valiant fourth-quarter comeback, but it was too little too late.

With the win — aided by Bibb County’s 47-8 dismantling of Greensboro — the Eagles clinched the Class 4A Region 3 championship.

“Always good to get a win,” said Thompson. “I thought we could’ve played a little bit harder, but bottom line is we won, and we’ve got some things to work on next week.”

The Eagles marched 51 yards in four plays on their opening drive to go up 7-0. Wells rushed for 42 yards on three carries before Erik Burrells finished the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run.

On its next possession, Calera marched 75 yards on seven plays — capped by a 20-yard Wells touchdown run — to go up 13-0.

Southside marched to the Calera 21 on its ensuing possession but turned the ball over on downs, and the Eagles made them pay.

Well scored his second touchdown of the night on a 1-yard run to cap a 7-play, 79-yard drive and increase the margin to 21-0.

The Panthers answered with a 12-play, 52-yard drive — aided by pass interference and facemask penalties — to cut the deficit to 21-6 when DeMarcus Smith scored on a 12-yard touchdown run.

The Eagles added one more score before the half to head into the locker room up 28-6.

The early part of the third quarter saw the game’s biggest momentum swing.

The Panthers weren’t able to move the ball and were forced to punt. DeMarlo Rivers’ low, line drive punt went into the line, hit Calera players Adam Winterbottom and Burrells and was recovered by Southside’s Darrell Elam, earning a first down on a technical — and brief — change of possession.

Two plays later, however, Southside quarterback Jermal Dudley threw an interception to Harris for a 22-yard touchdown return.

Though the game appeared out of reach, the Panthers continued to fight. Down 42-6, new quarterback Bentavious Hall caught fire, throwing two touchdown passes and rushing for another as the Panthers scored 18 unanswered points to cut the gap to 42-24.

“(He’s) coming along,” said Jones. “He’s beginning to understand defense and beginning to understand offense. He’s a 10th grader, and he can be a good one.”

Hall ran for a 9-yard touchdown and found Earl Bender (25 yards) and Dudley (1 yard) on touchdown passes.

Hall is one of the examples Jones cited, saying despite the Panthers’ record, the future is bright.

“I hope tonight is new beginning of understanding the execution of football for Southside High School,” said Jones. “We’re down, but we’re not out. We’ll be able to compete in a short length of time.”