But as he sat in an all-but-empty locker room inside Ed Deupree Fieldhouse, third-year coach Jeff Smith rattled off some figures that might help soften the blow of the season-ending defeat to the Bulldogs in the days, weeks, months and years to come.
“Right now we’re all upset in the locker room,” he said. “But once you take the sting off the loss, they’ll look back at what they accomplished this year. These seniors are leaving out of here with an 18-16 record. They won four games. Then, they won six games, then they won eight games.”
Smith continued: “They won the first playoff game that’s been won out there since 1995,” he said, referring to the Panthers’ 42-13 throttling of Region 2 champion Opp. “They had the most wins out here since 2000.”
That victory, which was garnered some 240 miles away from The Hill, came three days after senior lineman Aaron “Tootie” Harris suddenly passed away due to kidney failure.
The Panthers retired Harris’s No. 79 jersey during a ceremony prior to Friday’s kickoff.
“Those kids had to go through those emotions,” Smith said. “That was a tough day. I still get upset thinking about it. That was a tough day when I had to tell them that. For them to come back and beat a first-seed when we were a fourth-seed like we did.”
And while the story of the 2011 team is done, it could’ve very easily still been being written.
The Panthers fell behind 6-0 on a 1-yard plunge on fourth-and-goal from Washington County quarterback Dane Howard with 9:47 to play in the second.
However, they gained control of the ballgame behind the first-half play of junior quarterback Judd Smith.
Judd completed all three of his first-half passing attempts for 57 yards and two touchdowns to give Wellborn (8-4) a 14-6 lead heading into the break.
He found running back Kevin Mixon on a 16-yard scoring play with 5:39 to play in the second to put Wellborn on the board and Dalton Screws added the point after attempt to give his team the lead.
Then, he led his team on a 50-yard drive which culminated in an 18-yard touchdown pass to Screws who skied over a leaping Cody Reed to snag the catch as Wellborn went up eight.
“We knew going into the game that they had more speed than we did” Jeff said. “So, what we were going to try to do was basically control the game with our offense. Get the ball on our hash mark. Keep the ball on our side of the field and just grind it out on them and keep our offense on the field and their offense on the sideline.”
In the second half, Washington County got things going just enough. The Bulldogs (10-2) found some success in the passing game. Dane was 6-for-6, including a 17-yard touchdown pass on a wide receiver screen to Brandon Johnson with 1:03 to play in third.
Following an 11-yard run by Howard on 4th-and-6 from the Wellborn 31, Washington County’s Tyrone Kidd scored on a 20-yard run to put the Bulldogs ahead for good with 7 minutes remaining.
Wellborn reached the Washington County 25 but a sack on third down followed by an incomplete pass forced by a hurry thwarted the Panthers’ best shot at a comeback.
“In a lot of the games we’ve played this year we’ve been overmatched,” Jeff said. “We didn’t have the athletes that a lot of the people we played had. We’ve just outworked them and out toughed them and out hustled them and won.
“I’m proud of them. I’m proud to be associated with them. I’m their coach but the players are putting forth that effort and doing it. Let’s call it like it is. I don’t play. I just stand on the sideline and holler at them. They went out there and laid it on the line. The character that these kids showed this year will never be forgotten.”
Judd finished 6-for-9 for 84 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Chantz Goodman was Wellborn’s leading rusher with 16 carries for 83 yards. Howard was 8-for-10 for 90 yards and a touchdown, and Kidd led the Bulldogs rushing attack with 73 yards on eight carries.
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.