SPRING GARDEN — History was made in Panther Stadium on Friday night.
Spring Garden has never made it to the semifinals, but that changed when the Panthers downed North Sand Mountain 21-0 in the Class 2A state quarterfinals. That puts the Panthers in the state football semifinals for the first time in school history.
“It’s been a long time waiting,” Spring Garden head coach Jason Howard said. “This group has been to the third round the last two years in 1A, and not only over the hump, but to get over in 2A makes it even more special.”
The game was personal for running back Luke Welsh, too, but in a different way. Welsh said that in last week’s game, he didn’t live up to his own personal standards, and he wanted to make it up to his team.
“I feel like I let everybody down,” Welsh said. “I didn’t really show up like I needed to.”
Welsh knew that the Bisons’ secondary was tough, and he needed to play to his standards if the Panthers were going to advance.
“I knew that if they shut down our passing game it would be big for our run game,” Welsh said.
Welsh redeemed himself midway through the fourth quarter when he scored the game’s final touchdown on a 7-yard run, adding insurance to Spring Garden’s lead. He led the Panthers with 115 rushing yards.
After a scoreless first quarter, Weston Kirk broke free for a 19-yard gain to the Bisons’ 15-yard line. The run set Chaz Pope up with a 15-yard touchdown sprint to break the tie. Following the first of three extra points made by Cam Welsh, the Panthers held onto a 7-0 lead going into halftime.
In Spring Garden’s first drive of the second half, quarterback Ryley Kirk called his own number for a 2-yard scoring run to cap off a drive in which the Panthers picked up three first downs.
What to know
—Weston Kirk ran for 90 yards, Ryley Kirk rushed for 70 and Pope picked up 50 rushing yards in the game.
—Jackson Rogers recovered a fumble and Cooper Austin made an interception.
—North Sand Mountain’s Lake Bell passed for 92 yards.
—The Bisons’ Mason Smith picked up 45 receiving yards, and Blake Hill picked up 20 in the loss.
—Fernando Luna rushed for 28 yards for the Bisons.
—Ryley Kirk on the historic win: “I don’t know how to explain it, but to get past something that we’ve been struggling at. … It’s something special”
—Howard on Spring Garden’s defense: “All year everyone’s been bigger than us, but our philosophy is to put speed as we can get on the field. If you’re going to be bigger than you, then we’re going to be faster. Our starting defense has only given up seven points (in the playoffs.)”
—Spring Garden (13-1) will travel to Florence to face Mars Hill Bible in the Class 2A semifinals. North Sand Mountain’s season concluded at 11-2.