Rivals Clash: No. 7 Southside hosts Etowah


Southside interim coach Ron Daugherty will lean on seniors like Chance Usry, Austin Abernathy, Dantley Coker, Colton Clay and Saige Dale to give the program its first region title in more than 30 years. (Photo by Marc Golden | Gadsden Times)


The wait finally is over.

The Class 5A, No. 7 Southside Panthers host the Etowah Blue Devils on Friday night in The Gadsden Times’ Game of the Week.

It’s a Region 7 and Etowah County rivalry game filled with implications — and more than just community pride is on the line. If Southside (7-0, 5-0) wins, the Panthers will clinch their first region/area championship since 1980. Etowah, which is 6-1 overall and 4-1 in region play, needs a win to keep their region title and home playoff game hopes alive.

Southside interim coach Ron Daugherty and Etowah’s Drew Noles have heard plenty about this game all season.

“There were quite a few people wanting to talk about this week before this week,” Daugherty said. “I’m not talking about any of our players or coaches, but our community’s pretty excited.”

“It is a game that people have looked to, and it’s hard to keep people focused on the games at hand,” Noles said. “Everywhere you turn, people want to talk about Southide-Etowah. Now it’s here.”

Noles said he’s making sure his team knows its goals haven’t changed since the beginning of the season.

“Our goals don’t change, and that’s to win one more game,” Noles said. “That’s how we’re taking it. We know it’s a big game to the community, but we’re going to prepare the same way we have every week, and we can’t let emotions affect how we play.”

While some of the luster was taken off Friday night’s matchup with the Blue Devils’ Week 6 loss to Scottsboro, Noles liked what he saw in his team’s 41-11 win over Arab last week.

“I was proud of the bounce-back win,” he said. “I felt like from the get-go we were more physical than we’ve been being. We controlled the entire game and handled adversity much better than we did the week before against Scottsboro, when we imploded.”

Etowah will bring an attack into Barney Hood Stadium that features speed on both sides of the ball. It also will feature a healthy Devin Horton.

The senior running back, who was on The Times’ Dirty Dozen in the preseason, was injured in Week 2 and was out three weeks. He returned to the defensive side only in Week 5 before getting back in on offense last week against Arab. He scored a touchdown on his first carry.

“I thought mentally, it was huge for us to see Devin back on the field,” Noles said. “We were just trying to ease him in. When you go from not playing any, to playing just one way to playing a little bit on both sides of the ball, we were just trying to get him back in game shape.”

In his absence, Paul Ruiz, Stacy Williams and Marquavious Britton all have stepped up and have provided the Blue Devils with plenty of depth and speed.

“Any person on Etowah’s team is a threat to take it the distance,” Daugherty said.

Southside has a few threats of its own, and will counter Etowah’s speed with what Noles described as “the biggest team in the region without a doubt.”

And there’s no secret what the Panthers are going to try to do: run first, run more and then run it again.

“You’re not going to stop it, but you’ve gotta slow it down,” Noles said a rushing attack that is averaging 345 yards per game. “The thing that makes Southside so tough is, it’s not just one guy.”

Dantley Coker has used a mix of strength and deceptive speed at fullback to rush for 1,170 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. Blake Devine is an all-purpose threat, averaging 11.9 yards per carry with 10 scores to go along with a touchdown receiving and on a kick return. Aleric Williams and Holt Keeling also give the Panthers depth in the backfield.

Noles said he’s excited about his team’s challenge Friday night and what the game represents.

“I think the atmosphere should be absolutely electric,” he said. “I think it’s good for Etowah County football. It’s one of the better games in the county in a long time, and it’s good to see our program playing in a game like this again.”