Pike Lib spoils Morgan opener

Published 1:37 am Saturday, August 29, 2009

SELMA — Morgan coach Brian King’s first game at the helm of his alma mater did not begin or end the way he hoped as the Senators lost 13-6.

Morgan quarterback Austin Smitherman threw an interception to Pike Lib’s Daniel Powell on the game’s first play, and Powell promptly ran the ball in for a 24-yard Patriot touchdown.

In the fourth quarter, after the Patriots surged ahead 13-6 on a on a 4-yard Powell touchdown run, Morgan’s comeback effort came up too little, too late.

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The Pike Lib defense stuffed Heath Brantley on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 to stifle the Senators’ subsequent drive with little more than two minutes left.

Morgan got one more chance and drove down to the Patriot 30 with less than 25 seconds left, but a Blake Thomas interception sealed the win for Pike Lib.

Nonetheless, King believed the game made a statement to both teams and the AISA. Pike Lib finished the 2008 season as the Class AAA champion. Morgan struggled to five wins and entered the year with a new coach and quarterback.

“I’m sure there are some people who were thinking we were going to get whipped tonight,” said King. “I think some teams will be surprised, but overall, it doesn’t really bother us.”

Patriot coach Steven Kilcrease said he wasn’t surprised by the final score. He lamented his own team’s mistakes — a drive that ended on Morgan’s 2 at the end of the first half; a third-quarter drive that ended on Morgan’s 19 after Powell came up a yard short on fourth down; and a fumble one play after a fourth-quarter Blake Thomas interception in Morgan territory. But he said any win at Morgan is a good one.

“It was a big win; Morgan’s a good football team,” said Kilcrease. “Anytime you come up here and get a win, it says a lot about your football team.”

Smitherman’s interception to start the game was a relief to Kilcrease and Pike Lib’s captains, who inadvertently elected to kick to Morgan to start both halves in the pregame coin toss.

“It was huge,” he said. “Actually, (Powell) wasn’t aligned right, but he made a great play. It was a good start.”

The good start didn’t end well. Ben McKeller missed the point-after, leaving the Patriots with a 6-0 lead.

That missed PAT came into play when Smitherman got the Senators on the board — and the crowd on its feet — with a 73-yard touchdown run two possessions later.

“People stood up for the first time in years,” King said.

Smitherman finished with 129 yards on 14 attempts and a touchdown in his first start for the Senators.

Morgan kicker Lanny Harrison’s effort came up short, leaving the game knotted at 6-6 as a defensive struggle ensued.

The Morgan defense upended the Patriots’ drives for most of the second half, but the Senators had difficulty moving the ball.

Morgan’s defense wore down, and Powell’s 4-yard fourth quarter scamper capped a 13-play, 87-yard drive with less than nine minutes left. The drive was the product of a balanced running game that allowed four Pike Lib players — Powell (50 yards), Trey Walters (42), Nick McLaughlin (47) and Taylor Stephens (41) — to finish with more than 40 yards rushing.

“I thought we got back to doing what we do best — running the football,” said Kilcrease. “To go the length we did, I think it says a lot about character.”

The rushing attack also opened the middle for Walters to find Stephens throught the air for two crucial first-down catches. The duo connected three times for 55 yards on the final drive, and Walters finished 8-of-12 for 152 yards.