SPRING GARDEN — Spring Garden bent, but the Panthers didn’t break in a 28-20 first-round playoff win over Hubbertville on Friday night.
Pushed to the brink twice with the Panthers leading by that score in the fourth quarter, the Spring Garden defense kept the Lions off the board both times and secured a win. Hubbertville reached the Panthers' 13-yard line two separate times on its last two drives, but Spring Garden shut down both tries.
On the latter drive, the Lions converted two fourth downs, one a 20-yard hook-and-lateral on a fourth-and-15, to bend the Panthers nearly to the breaking point. Landon Gowens brought down Hubbertville’s Gage Key with 10 seconds left to force the clock to roll out on Hubbertville’s chances.
“It really was a bend but don’t break,” Spring Garden coach Jason Howard said after the game. “They stayed ahead of the chains all night.”
With Spring Garden leading 20-7 late in the first half, Hubbertville put together a quick drive and Key found Matt Sanders for a 12-yard touchdown with just 9.4 seconds left to make the score 20-13 at halftime.
After a fourth-down Spring Garden stall in the third quarter, the Lions tied the game on a Gage Alexander 1-yard plunge, the second of his two touchdowns.
With all their momentum gone, the Panthers created some.
Ryley Kirk found Cameron Welsh for 17 yards on a third-and-long, then Luke Welsh tiptoed the sidelines, somehow shrugged off a shove, and sprinted 39 yards for the deciding score.
The latter Welsh rushed 12 times for 120 yards and three touchdowns.
“We’re a super young team,” Howard said. “For us to have it tied up and then be able to respond and come out and go take the lead was big.”
What to know
—Kirk made plays through the air and on the ground for the Spring Garden offense. The junior quarterback threw for 137 yards and a touchdown, which was caught by Chaz Pope, while running seven times for 55 yards. Cooper Austin caught four Kirk passes for 85 yards, including a toe-tapping sideline catch that extended a first-half touchdown drive.
—Hubbertville’s two-Gage backfield, Gage Key and Gage Alexander, both hit the century mark on the ground. Key rushed for 120 on 21 carries, while Alexander toted the ball 19 times for 108 yards and his two scores.
—Late in the first half, the two teams turned the ball over on three straight plays. Spring Garden’s Gowens recovered a Hubbertville fumble, then the Lions took it right back on the next play with a forced fumble of their own. Austin then intercepted Key on the next play.
—Howard on the close scare: “We survived against a really good team. We needed that. It’s playoff football, and we needed that. We’ve only really been in three close ball games all year. For us to get a close game like this, I think it helps our confidence, especially having to do it from the defensive end.”
—Hubbertville coach Lamar Harris on Spring Garden’s defensive stands: “They’re very aggressive. They line up and come at you, and we really didn’t have an answer for them on those fourth down plays. That spelled our doom.”
—Spring Garden (10-1) wins a playoff game for the fifth straight year. The Panthers will travel to Hackleburg, which beat Valley Head 34-19, in the second round. Hubbertville finished its season at 6-5.