October 24, 2010 12:09:00 AM
David Miller -
With a home playoff game on the line, the West Lowndes High School football team picked the wrong time to play its worst game of the season.
It also picked the wrong opponent to give extra opportunities.
The Panthers had nine penalties and three turnovers Friday night in a 30-6 loss to Eupora, nixing the team''s chances of earning second place in Class 2A, Region 2.
That scenario hinges on Eupora handling Ackerman next week in the final regular-season game week in 2A.
Still, the looks on the Panthers'' faces as coach Bobby Berry tried to lift their spirits told the story of a team that knew it blew a major opportunity.
"All of us think it''s over with," running back Antonio Wilson said. "They think our season''s done."
Although the Panthers (6-3, 3-1) already have clinched a playoff spot, Berry knows the Senior Night disappointment can''t be allowed to linger long because the Panthers close the season against region leader East Webster.
"It was a thing for us to be down about because we could have played the first round at home," Berry said. "If we would have won tonight, we could have played one more home game. I told them that. They knew that. I guess deep down inside they knew they didn''t give their all. It''s just one of those things, and sometimes kids take things different ways."
The Panthers struggled to snap the ball, keep in mouthpieces, and line up correctly, halting an otherwise efficient offense that saw quarterback Gerald Sanders go 9 of 13 for 126 yards. But Sanders also threw three interceptions, including back-to-back interceptions to open the game.
For a team with 14 seniors, Berry was surprised to see his team lose composure, especially in the second half when the Panthers trailed by just six points.
"We''ve been making some mistakes -- hadn''t been quite this many -- but we had some bad ones today," Berry said. "We were in the red zone four or five times and we didn''t punch it in. We were partially our own worst enemy tonight, but they''ve got a good football team.
"We''re in the playoffs -- something we haven''t done in a while. (I''m) just hoping we can get our heads up and get better."
While West Lowndes struggled to keep itself together, Eupora rode a punishing ground game that amassed 261 yards and turned the ball over just once. Fullback Vandy Smith had a breakout game with 112 yards on 11 carries and a score. Smith''s 3-yard touchdown in the third quarter gave the Eagles an 18-6 lead.
Smith then recorded an interception and returned it to the West Lowndes goal line in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Jamal Roby followed with his second 1-yard touchdown run to put the game away.
"He''s come into his own," Eupora coach Junior Graham said of Smith. "We kind of made a commitment after the East Webster game to try to get him a lot more touches. He''s a load, especially when he gets into the open field. I think Savon (Daughtery) is going to be the same type of back. Probably next year, you''ll see those two guys in the backfield together."
West Lowndes had four of its six fumbles in the second half, including two on its first drive of the third quarter.
The Panthers'' only source of consistent offense was Wilson, who finished with 46 rushing yards and 51 receiving yards.
"I just got past our blockers and the blitz," Wilson said.
Berry was disappointed in his team''s inability to capitalize more in the passing game.
"He (Wilson) is the one that carries the load for us mostly," Berry said. "Our quarterback missed some reads, missed some passes. That didn''t beat us. We just didn''t execute as well as we should have."
Next week, West Lowndes will face an undefeated East Webster that has conceded just 76 points this season, while Eupora will travel to Ackerman.