CEDAR BLUFF – Spring Garden football wins over Cedar Bluff have been a rare feat. Coming into Thursday night’s season-opening game for both teams, the Panthers had only beaten the Tigers three times since their first meeting in 1969.
This year’s Spring Garden senior class had never tasted a victory over the Tigers – that is, until now.
Senior quarterback Ryley Kirk connected on 8 of his 9 pass attempts for 100 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 73 yards and two scores on seven carries to lead the Class 2A, No. 9 Panthers to a 55-0 thrashing of the Class 1A, No. 6 Tigers.
It was Spring Garden’s first win over Cedar Bluff since 2014. Ironically, all four of the Panthers’ victories in the series have come on the road.
“It feels good to finally beat them,” Kirk said. “We came out on the first drive and scored, and I felt like that got us going. From then on, we were able to keep on pounding it in. Our defense played really good. We were able to stop them, and those stops just carried over to offense.”
Spring Garden coach Jason Howard said he felt like his Panthers were “focused.”
“I felt like we had a pretty good game plan coming in, thinking about what they were going to do, and I felt like our guys executed well,” Howard said. “Ryley, I give him a lot of freedom to call some of the stuff he sees. I felt like he not only played a good game, but I felt like he called a good game too.”
As Kirk mentioned, the Panthers (1-0) were clicking from the get-go. The defense held Cedar Bluff (0-1) on a fourth-and-1 inside its own 30-yard line. Kirk cashed in his first touchdown five plays later on a 5-yard run to give Spring Garden a 6-0 advantage early.
The Tigers put together a substantial drive on their next series, but again, a fourth-down attempt was snuffed out by the Panther defense at their own 4-yard line.
Kirk carried the ball 45 yards on the first play of the Panthers’ next drive, then capped it off with an 11-yard scoring strike to receiver Cooper Austin. Chaz Pope took a reverse handoff in for the 2-point conversion, giving Spring Garden a 14-0 edge at the end of the first quarter.
Four more possessions in the second quarter led to three more Panther touchdowns. Kirk ran in for a 5-yard score, then threw for a 17-yard touchdown to Pope. With 6:27 remaining in the first half, the Panther rout was on at 27-0.
Another Kirk – senior Weston Kirk – picked off an Anbre Leek pass to give Spring Garden’s offense another short field in which to work. One play after the interception, senior fullback Luke Welsh ran 35 yards for the score, increasing the Panther lead to 34-0.
Welsh finished with 107 yards on nine carries with a touchdown.
Weston Kirk capped the first-half scoring with an 8-yard touchdown run for a 41-0 Panther halftime advantage.
Andrew Floyd added a 17-yard score with 3:08 to go in the third quarter, then Cam Welsh had a 70-yard burst for a touchdown in fourth for the final.
“We’ve talked about since the beginning of practice that we’ve got to be fast starters. Obviously we weren’t able to do that tonight,” Cedar Bluff coach Jonathan McWhorter said. “You’ve got to tip your cap to Coach Howard and his staff. That’s probably one of the best, if not the best team in school history in my opinion. We’ve played them a lot. They’ve got a lot of experienced guys. Most of their skill guys are seniors. They’ve got a really good football team.”
Jacob Burleson completed 7-of-12 pass attempts for 59 yards. Nick Clifton added 28 yards on 14 carries.
“We weren’t able to bring the fire and the energy that we normally have been able to bring,” McWhorter said. “We were not able to execute, and that’s on me. I didn’t have us ready to play. We’ve got a lot of things to improve on, but I have no doubt our kids will respond this week.”