Smith’s Wellborn Panthers rose up to stop a Woodland charge in the closing seconds to earn a 20-18 win that likely got them into the state playoffs for the fifth year in a row.
It was literally a game that went down to the wire.
Woodland was driving for the winning points when quarterback John Wes Adcock was flushed from the pocket and hammered by Panthers junior Corri Tignor just as he appeared to throw.
The play was ruled a fumble and Wellborn recovered with 5.7 seconds left to secure one of the more emotional victories in Smith’s five-year tenure.
“Phew, what a win,” Smith said. “I never prayed so much in my life; I prayed so hard. If you paid six dollars to see that game you got your money’s worth tonight, that’s for sure.
“My whole insides haven’t settled down.”
The Panthers (4-3, 4-1 in Class 2A, Region 6) were protecting their lead the whole second half. They really had to step it up after the Bobcats (3-4, 2-3) closed to 20-18 on Adcock’s 12-yard touchdown pass to John David Jacobs with 7:51 to play.
The final drive was set in motion after Wellborn turned the ball over down at the Woodland 30 with 2:35 to play.
The Bobcats’ hopes seemed dashed when Robert Tucker intercepted Adcock with 1:25 to play, but Wellborn was called for pass interference.
Adcock then completed three straight passes to get inside the Wellborn 10.
He appeared to have had a fourth completion and a touchdown to Kip Sims with 25.3 seconds left, but the Bobcats were called for holding.
Two plays later, the Panthers made the decisive play.
Nose guard Tyler Lewis pressured Adcock, Tignor blasted him high and freshman Jordan Montgomery, whose father played on that 1983 “Thin Twenty” team being honored at the game, recovered the fumble.
“Honestly, I feel like my team got behind me and they pushed me,” Tignor said. “I didn’t do it by myself. It was a team effort. I did it for my team.”
There was some doubt on Woodland’s sideline as to whether the play was a pass or a fumble. Tignor, meanwhile, believed he hit Adcock before the ball was thrown.
“I thought his arm was going forward, and the ball went that-a-way, too,” Woodland coach Larry Strain said, pointing in a forward motion. “If it’s a fumble it goes backwards. You can’t blame nothing on officiating … but I’m not real happy with them right now.”
While Wellborn celebrated a big victory, the loss was particularly harmful for Woodland’s playoff hopes. The Bobcats entered the game tied for fourth in the region and left in a three-way tie for fourth after Vincent lost and Pleasant Valley won.
“It was a playoff game for us,” Strain said. “We’ve got two more region games. It’s a must-win situation for us.”
Wellborn opened a 20-12 halftime lead behind two Landon Machristie touchdown passes and a 3-yard run by Chantz Goodman.
Machristie was 4-of-5 for 93 yards passing. His scoring strikes covered 31 yards to Kevin Mixon and 37 yards to Tignor.
“We had a lot riding on this game; we had a lot of people to make proud during this game,” Machristie said. “I heard stories about the Thin Twenty all the time when I was little. I always wanted to be like them. To get out here and get the win in front of them means the world.”
The game was dedicated to the memory of longtime coach Lamar Wade and the “Thin Twenty” team.
“Knowing we dedicated this game to coach Wade and having the ‘Thin Twenty’ back and representing them, and then us winning this game like we did right there, it’s hard for me not to get choked up right now,” Smith said. “This morning when I got in the shower and I was thinking about what all was fixing to take place tonight … I had to keep myself together. I’ve been like that all day long.”