From the opening kickoff when Demetrius Powell took the ball 67 yards to the end zone until the last second ticked off the clock, Saks had the game in hand. Once it was over, the Class 3A Wildcats defeated Class 2A fourth-ranked Wellborn 37-14.
“I’m proud of the way our guys played tonight,” Saks coach Jonathan Miller said. “Everyone did what we asked them to do on defense against all the misdirection.
“I really proud of our guys for the way they played.”
Following Powell’s opening kickoff return for a touchdown, Saks was back at it again quickly, scoring another touchdown more before the midway point in the first quarter.
It was set up by Calvin Figueroa recovering a fumble on the Wellborn 6-yard line, which quarterback Tre Smith put in the end zone on the next play on a rushing play.
Smith followed up that touchdown with another rushing score on the first play of the second quarter.
And that became a theme for the night.
“For Tre’s first start, he did a great job,” Miller said. “Our offensive line also blocked well and our running backs ran hard. It was a good point all the way around.”
One of the lone bright spots for Wellborn in the first half came midway through the second quarter.
The Panthers went on an 11-play drive, which featured their first two first downs of the game. The series covered 80 yards, ending with quarterback Landon Machristie hitting Corri Tignor for a 28-yard touchdown pass.
It was a rare way for the wing-T team to score, but it was the first offensive production Wellborn had seen.
“For a good offense to work, plays have to set up plays,” Wellborn coach Jeff Smith said. “We were able to do that. We just saying, ‘Try this, try that,’ doing anything we could. We were just putting in any position we could to help move them down the field.”
Saks’ 24-8 lead into halftime was simply commanding, but Wellborn appeared to be a different team at the start of the third quarter. The Panthers traveled from their own 45 into the red zone, but that was when, Miller said, the tide turned fully in favor for the Wildcats.
After Wellborn pushed it inside the 10, it turned the ball over on downs. Saks running back Devontae Young scored seven plays later.
“Maybe the opening kickoff kind of set the tone, but it didn’t put the game out of reach. I thought one of the bigger things was we came out of halftime and made a four-down stop,” Miller said. “We challenged the guys to do that and they did.”
For the remainder of the game Saks defense held Wellborn intact, holding the Panthers to 103 rushing yards. Miller said the Wildcats played their base defense, adding “we just did it better.”
While Wellborn went three-and-out its next two positions, Tre Smith added another touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter, putting the Panthers’ hopes of winning out of reach.
“We never could get in sync offensively,” the Wellborn coach said. “Usually we’ll start rattling off play left and right. It is what it is, and we’re just going to work and get better.”
As the clocked ticked down to the end of the game, Smith said there was something he liked that he saw out of his players. Midway through the fourth quarter, Wellborn drove 56 yards in eight plays with the series ending with running back Chantz Goodman scoring.
“The score didn’t show it, but I saw some tremendous heart out of some of our kids that kept playing hard, fighting and trying,” Jeff Smith said. “Sometimes you have to take a loss like this to see how much that matters.”
Goodman led the Panthers in rushing with 61 yards on 22 carries. Machristie was 9-of-20 through the air for 145 yards and a score. Robert Tucker caught four of the quarterback’s passes for 70 yards.
Tre Smith led Saks with 73 yards on 5-of-14 passing, adding 79 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries. Young led the Wildcats in rushing with 121 yards on 10 carries, and Darion Coleman pulled down two catches for 23 yards. Young had 94 of his rushing yards in the third quarter alone on six rushes.
Saks will begin Class 3A, Region 5 play next week, hosting White Plains. Wellborn will begin battle in Class 2A, Region 6 by traveling to Vincent.
Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star