SPRING GARDEN – On a night where the Spring Garden Lady Panthers were honored for winning the program’s seventh basketball title after a dominating 35-2 season, the football Panthers turned in another dominating performance of their own Friday.
Senior quarterback Ryley Kirk connected on 6-of-14 pass attempts for 216 yards and three touchdowns. Junior receiver/defensive back Chaz Pope caught two passes for scores, ran for another and had an interception on defense as the Panthers blew past West End of Walnut Grove 62-0.
Coupled with their 55-0 victory at Cedar Bluff last week, the sixth-ranked Panthers (2-0, 1-0 Class 2A, Region 6) have outscored the opposition 117-0. Not a bad way to start their first year in 2A.
“Our first two games we’ve started out pretty good,” Kirk said. “I’ve been excited to play in 2A, just because it’s some different teams we haven’t been able to play. We were just able to execute in this game.”
That execution began on the defensive side of the ball.
On the Patriots’ first drive, Cooper Austin intercepted West End quarterback Eli Pierce, and things snowballed from there. Kirk connected with Pope on a 64-yard score to put the Panthers up 7-0 with 8:38 to go in the opening quarter.
“I guess that pick set the tone,” Kirk said. “From then on out we were able to stop them. “We knew they were going to throw it around a lot,” Pope said. “After Coop got that first pick, we knew we had to come out with a big play to get our momentum going and get the crowd behind us a little more. That’s what we did.”
On West End’s next possession, a high snap on a punt resulted in the Panthers recovering the ball at the Patriot 16-yard line. Five plays later, Pope ran in from five yards to give Spring Garden a 13-0 edge.
Another mishandled Patriot punt attempt gave the Panthers another short field in which to work. This time, Kirk capped the drive with a 1-yard score. He also connected with Weston Kirk on the 2-point conversion, and the rout was on at 21-0 with 3:11 remaining in the first quarter.
But the Panthers weren’t done with the first-quarter scoring. Weston Kirk capped off the quarter with his 48-yard touchdown run with just under a minute remaining for a 28-0 Panther lead.
Things got much worse for the Patriots (2-1, 0-1) just 20 seconds into the second quarter. Ryley Kirk found Austin open on down the sideline for a 69-yard score and a 34-0 advantage. After a Pope interception of Pierce, Ryley Kirk cashed in the turnover with a 17-yard touchdown run. A Pierce fumble recovered by the Panthers’ Nathan Law led to a Luke Welsh 7-yard score and a 48-0 edge.
Spring Garden scored its last touchdown of the first half on another Ryley Kirk-Chaz Pope scoring strike. This one went for 47 yards and it gave the Panthers a 55-0 lead at the half.
Panther backup quarterback Chapel Pope accounted for the only score of the second half, a 1-yard touchdown run with 9:20 remaining in the fourth quarter for the final.
Chaz Pope finished with three catches for 117 yards and two touchdowns. Austin caught two passes for 87 yards and a score. Weston Kirk ran for 129 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. Welsh finished with 64 yards and a touchdown on 12 totes.
Isaiah Roberson led the Patriots with 64 yards on 12 carries. Pierce added 40 yards on 14 carries and 29 yards on four completions through the air.
“That score is not indicative of that West End team,” Spring Garden coach Jason Howard said. “They’ve beaten Susan Moore. They drilled Pleasant Valley. That’s not a bad West End football team.
“We’ve still got a lot of improvement to do. We’re not ready to compete at the upper echelon of the 2A level yet. We’re not ready to compete where we want to be, where we expect to be, where we were in 1A, but we’re getting there.”