After a first half that had all the makings of a prize fight, Glen Oaks running back Stephen Smith delivered the knockout blow against 1A Southern Lab at Memorial Stadium on Thursday.
The senior running back returned the opening second-half kickoff for a 92-yard touchdown to lift the Panthers past the Kittens 12-6.
The final non-league game for both teams was more like a matchup of bitter district rivals. A pair of fourth-and-short stops at the beginning of the game established the tone for a physical contest peppered with big hits and defensive plays.
But after a first half where both teams combined for nine first downs, Smith fielded the second-half kickoff from his own 8-yard line. He dodged two tacklers and hit a crease down the left sideline for the go-ahead score.
“We played tough even though we had a lot of things that didn’t go our way tonight,” said Glen Oaks coach Landry Williams. “It was an ugly game, but an ugly win is better than a pretty loss.”
Smith also rushed for 32 yards, and fellow running back Johnta Herbert added 82 yards on the ground to go with a touchdown to lead the 3A Panthers (2-3) in their final non-league tune-up.
The Panthers held Southern Lab (3-2) to 168 total yards, but the Kittens found a way to stay within striking distance until late in the fourth quarter.
After the kickoff return, Southern Lab responded with an 11-play, seven-minute drive capped by Maurice Aucoin’s 1-yard touchdown run to cut the Panthers’ lead in half.
Then, the Kittens found a chance to tie the game when defensive end Myron-Jackson Green sacked quarterback Christian Walker on consecutive plays to force a punt.
But an errant snap on third-and-long, the Kittens’ fourth fumble of the game, sailed over the head of quarterback Deonte Shorts and spoiled the comeback attempt.
“Credit Glen Oaks because they were prepared,” said Southern Lab coach Nakia Mitchell. “There’s a couple of thing you can pin point that influenced the outcomeIt wasn’t just the snaps but some other things we have to work on and improve.”
After finishing the first quarter with no rushing yards, Herbert found some holes in the SLHS defense in the second quarter.
A fumble recovery gave the Panthers possession at midfield. Herbert rushed for 44 yards on four attempts on the ensuing drive, including a 20-yard touchdown run that gave Glen Oaks a 6-0 lead.
It was the biggest spurt of offense in a first half dominated by stifling defense and critical mistakes.
A fumble recovery by Panthers safety Oscar Pael was negated when the Panthers were penalized for having 12 players on the field. Three plays later Pael blocked Murphy Nash’s punt to give GOHS possession at the Kittens’ 42.
Corey Washington hauled in a 25-yard pass from Walker to put the Panthers in scoring position, but Glen Oaks came up short when the duo couldn’t connect on fourth-and-goal.
Shorts drove the Kittens for six plays to the Panthers’ 25-yard line, but he couldn’t reel in a wild snap and Pael recovered the fumble for Glen Oaks.