Smackover heads into their bye week and subsequent showdown against Junction City on Oct. 6 with plenty of momentum after winning a 12-8 thriller on homecoming over James Bowie (Texas) on Friday night.
The Bucks’ defense, which shut out Hampton the previous week, came up with a pair of red-zone stops late in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
Kamarian Lee recovered a fumble in the end zone and the Bucks forced an incomplete pass on the final play of the game from the 7 to end it.
“The effort of the players was a huge positive,” Smackover coach David Osborn said. “We had guys who could barely walk off the field. They had played so hard. They definitely took leave it all on the field to heart Friday night. We still had some self-inflicted mistakes on penalties that we need to cut out.”
Smackover’s defense allowed 297 yards to the Pirates, who controlled the clock thanks to their double-wing offense.
“We have been playing better on defense the last couple weeks,” Osborn said. “After the Mineral Springs game, it was about getting back to basics. We have had several players step up and help in key positions. Fortunately, we are in pretty good shape as a team at this point, so the long time on defense didn't wear us down too much. Bowie did a good job of playing keep away with the ball, but our guys did a great job of making them drive the field and didn't give up big plays.”
Sophomore Robert Cardin made his presence felt against the Pirates, and Osborn said a position switch the coaching staff made has paid immediate dividends.
“Robert has played well the last couple weeks,” Osborn said. “We moved Robert to an inside linebacker position from defensive end about two weeks ago, and he has played extremely well. He is strong and athletic and does a good job of flowing to the ball.
“He has done a good job of taking on this role as a 10th grader. His speed has caused other teams issues on the front, and while he may not make every tackle, he is causing several because teams are having to account for him.”
The Bucks’ offense spent much of the night on the sidelines, finishing with only 164 yards of total offense with 65 coming on Tanner Mitchell’s touchdown run that proved to be the decisive blow in the game.
Smackover went with a no-huddle look at times, and Osborn said it was something they have done in the past.
“It’s similar to what we have done the last few seasons,” Osborn said. “It’s just a way that we can adjust the tempo if we feel like it’s the appropriate time. If you huddle up, you end up having to go back to the huddle, then sprint to the ball to run a play. With the no-huddle, it honestly makes more sense.
“You cut out the extra sprint on the play, and the players get a break while they are waiting on the play call. At the same time, it does allow us to go fast if needed.”
Friday’s game was a special one for both schools thanks to Mike Poff, who coached at Smackover for 30 of his 42-year career, but also coached at James Bowie.
Poff passed away in May after a long battle with cancer.
When preparing for the Pirates last week, Osborn said he thought about the conversations he had with Poff.
“One thing that was helping in my game plan was reflecting back on all the times with coach Poff,” Osborn said. “Coach Poff had experience in running this style of offense and many times we had talked about how to stop it.”
On the 25-yard line on each end of the field, Poff’s name was painted in each school’s team colors, and Osborn said he had been thinking of how to pay tribute to Poff.
“Over the last couple of weeks, I had been thinking about something to do to honor coach Poff,” Osborn said. “Coach Poff was a mentor, colleague and friend to many of us. With it being homecoming, I wanted to try to come up with a way to recognize him along with homecoming. When we played at James Bowie last year, it was like a homecoming for coach Poff with so many former players and students visiting with him. We made the template with his name and painted it on all 25’s, alternating black/white with blue/yellow. When we painted the field on Wednesday, I took a picture of POFF on the field and had a rainbow show up in the background. It was just amazing how it all worked out.
“We also parked our John Deere Gator in the corner Poff would always sit in. The last several seasons Poff watched many games sitting in the Gator. For kickoff, coach Poff’s family were the honorary captains for us. It was an emotional night for all. You had the happiness of homecoming mixed with missing coach Poff. In the end, it all worked out with the emotion of a last-minute stop to win the game.”
The Bucks enter conference play with a 3-2 record, and Osborn said that while he was happy with Friday’s performance, his team hasn’t played a full game with the entire team healthy.
“In the five games, they have all been different,” Osborn said. “We have yet to play a full game with everyone healthy, either from injury or sickness. But as a group, you have to be pleased with the effort and play from last Friday.”
Osborn said the bye week will be about fundamentals.
“We will go back to the basics this week,” Osborn said. “While we will shorten the practices a little on time, but it will still be treated like a game week. It's a good time for a bye going into the conference next week. Hopefully, we will have everyone healthy by that time.”