In the game to decide the Class 1A, Region 6 championship, visiting Cedar Bluff rushed for more than 300 yards Friday and defeated Spring Garden 34-7. The Panthers limited Cedar Bluff to four pass completions and just 24 yards through the air but the Tigers ran for three touchdowns in the first half, building a 20-7 halftime advantage. Cedar Bluff added two touchdowns in the fourth quarter on short runs.

Cedar Bluff’s success running compounded Spring Garden’s inability to get its trademark ground game going. The Panthers netted 86 rushing yards.   

“We weren’t physical enough, couldn’t run the football,” Spring Garden coach Jason Howard said.  

With Friday’s loss, the Panthers finished second in their region for the fourth consecutive season. They will play at home in the opening round of the AHSAA Class 1A playoffs on Nov. 10. Phillips of Bear Creek comes to Spring Garden. The Bears defeated Waterloo 41-34 on Oct. 20 in the game that determined the No. 3 and No. 4 teams in Region 8. Phillips is currently 5-4 with a game at Hubbertville on Friday.

This will be the fourth consecutive season the Panthers (6-2) have opened the playoffs at home. This year’s team will look to add to a two-game winning streak in first-round playoff games. First there’s work to be done and a final regular-season game to be played at improving Class 3A Pleasant Valley (3-6) on Friday night.

“We’ve got to establish a running game. We’ve been banged up a little bit here and there and we’ve had to go on dummies to do things offensively during practice. That doesn’t suit us,” Howard said before he left the field Friday night. “We’ve just got to get more physical.”   

Pleasant Valley did not make the 3A playoffs but won a region game – 37-0 over Glencoe – for the first time since the 2014 season and played close in three region losses.   

Friday night, Cedar Bluff took the opening possession and scored on a 32-yard run. Two possessions later, Cedar Bluff faced a fourth-and-1 at the Cedar Bluff 41-yard line. The Tigers tried to move the chains on a run up the middle but Ivory Starr bobbled the handoff. The play lost two yards and the Panthers had a turnover on downs at the Cedar Bluff 39.

A defensive holding penalty against Cedar Bluff gave the Panthers a first down at the Cedar Bluff 24. Quarterback Luke Ivey passed to Dylan Rogers for 16 yards on the next play. After a 1-yard run by Luke Welsh, Weston Kirk picked up five yards at left end on the final play of the first quarter.

On third down, Kirk took a direct snap up the middle for one more yard. The fourth-and-goal call was a handoff to Welsh who dove over the pile at the goal line and into the end zone. Colby Slayton kicked the tying extra point with 10:44 to play in the second quarter.

Following the touchdown by Welsh, Cedar Bluff scored twice and led 20-7. Brian Kelley blocked the extra point attempt off the edge following the third Cedar Bluff touchdown. Kelley also blocked the kick the next time the Tigers scored.      

Down 20-7, the Panthers drove to the Cedar Bluff 3 late in the second quarter, sparked by Kirk’s 23-yard gain on a lateral and a 14-yard pass completion from Ivey to Jonah Smith. A 2-yard run by Ivey on second down reached the 3 but Spring Garden was flagged for a dead ball 15-yard penalty at the end of the run. Two passes from the 18 were incomplete. At halftime, Cedar Bluff led 20-7.  

The Panthers opened the second half with a punt. Following that kick, Rogers intercepted a Cedar Bluff pass to give Spring Garden the ball at the Cedar Bluff 39. From that point, the Panthers suffered back-to-back interceptions, lost a fumble and turned the ball over on downs.  

Official Spring Garden stats showed Kirk with 13 carries for 62 yards. Andrew Floyd ran six times for 19 yards. Welsh netted seven yards on four carries. Ivey completed seven passes of his 17 passes for 95 yards. Gaines Petty had four receptions, all in the second half, for 58 yards. In addition to the 16-yard catch by Rogers and the 14-yarder by Smith, Ivey completed a 7-yard pass to Slayton.

Linebacker Austin Slayton led the defense with eight tackles. Kelley made six stops. Lucky Bolen and Colby Slayton each recorded five tackles. Welsh, Christian Crider, Pj Smith and Jonah Smith had four tackles apiece. Dylan Rogers, Draevan Bowman, Ryan Poole and Dalton Gilley made three tackles each and Wesley Rogers had two. Bowman also broke up a pass.