SPRING GARDEN – A couple of weeks ago, Spring Garden senior lineman Landon Gowens was fighting just to get back on the football field.
Gowens had contracted a viral infection, and it took a few days for his fever to go down.
But on Thursday night against Class 1A, No. 8 Cedar Bluff, Gowens made the Tigers’ temperature rise a few degrees all by himself. He posted seven tackles and sacked Tiger senior quarterback Jacob Burleson four times as the Class 2A, No. 7 Panthers roared to a 40-0 victory.
“He’s tough and he’s gritty. He’s Spring Garden through and through,” head coach Jason Howard said.
“Even as sick as he was, there wasn’t a doubt he’d come back. The day the doctor said he could be back at school, he was back at school. He was driving me crazy because I wouldn’t let him practice. He’s like ‘Let me go in for just one or two plays.’ By the next day, I couldn’t keep him off the field. That’s just Landon.”
Thursday’s contest was just the fifth time in school history Spring Garden (1-0) defeated one of their longest-running county rivals. It was also the first time Spring Garden has beaten Cedar Bluff in back-to-back seasons. The Panthers won 55-0 in last year’s season opener.
It was also the first time Spring Garden had ever won at home against the Tigers (0-1) in 47 meetings.
“That makes it special,” Howard said. “I picked some grass up (following the game). I’ve got some grass from everything I think has been a big win for us. I’ve kept it and have it marked. This will go with that. I thought it was a big win just because it was the first (win over Cedar Bluff) we’ve had here. It was good to beat them in front of our home fans.”
“It feels good to be the first team to beat them on our home field,” Gowens said. “We didn’t really know what they were going to run, but we just studied our keys, worked on filling the gaps, and did what we were supposed to. When the time come, we just beat them up front. I was quicker than the guy in front of me. I got around him pretty easy.”
Just how dominating of a performance was it for the Panther defense? Twenty-one of Cedar Bluff’s plays went for zero or negative yardage. The Tigers punted eight times and finished with a total of negative-4 yards for the game.
Gowens led that defensive charge.
“They killed us up front,” first-year Cedar Bluff coach Alan Beckett said. “I thought we had a good week last week against Plainview (in the jamboree), but Spring Garden was another level. They beat us at the point of attack. We got no pressure on them. You’ve got to dial a little bit of pressure on the quarterback, but they were getting so much pressure on us. It was not competitive at all.”
Howard said Gowens’ performance “could’ve been the best game a defensive lineman has had here.”
“At least since I’ve been here,” Howard said. “They held him, and he fought around when they held him. He played solid.”
Gowens wasn’t the only Panther to play solid.
Connor and Andrew Bates both registered a pair of sacks. Connor Bates also had six tackles, and Denver Jarrett picked off a pass.
Offensively, Panther senior quarterback Chaz Pope completed 14-of-17 pass attempts for 221 yards and three touchdowns, two of which went to senior receiver Cooper Austin. Austin led the Panther pass catchers with six receptions for 125 yards. Senior tailback Andrew Floyd led Spring Garden’s running attack with 68 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown. Pope also ran for 61 yards on just seven totes.
“It feels great,” Pope said. “We knew they were coming here and we hadn’t ever beat them here, so that was our mindset the whole week. We were definitely winning this game. We wanted a shutout, and the defense played well. We got what we wanted.”
Cam Welsh got the Panther machine rolling on their first drive of the game on a 2-yard touchdown run with 7:02 left in the first quarter. Floyd later added another touchdown on a 3-yard run to make it 14-0 Panthers at the end of the first quarter.
Pope connected on his first touchdown to Austin with 9:48 remaining in the second quarter. This one went for 64 yards, and it put the Panthers out in front 20-0.
Following Jarrett’s interception which he returned to midfield, it took Spring Garden’s offense just four plays to find the end zone again. This time, Pope hit Larry Rogers for a 22-yard score, increasing Spring Garden’s lead to 26-0 at halftime.
The Panthers received the ball to begin the second half and scored again on a 26-yard Pope-to-Austin pass. Welsh’s extra point put Spring Garden in front 33-0.
Backup quarterback Chapel Pope scored on a 10-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter for the final.
Burleson led Cedar Bluff by completing 8-of-14 of his pass attempts for 52 yards. He also had an interception on defense.
“We definitely didn’t execute, but they’re a really good football team,” Beckett said. “I thought the second half we executed a couple of things, but we’re not a real good football team right now. We’ve got some parts, but we’ve just got to find a way to get better. We’re going to work every day to get this program back where it should be and where it’s been before.”
Both teams begin region play next Friday. Cedar Bluff hosts Valley Head, while Spring Garden travels to Walnut Grove to take on West End.