Spring Garden’s running game too much for Sand Rock

Spring Garden’s Connor Bates cuts to the corner on a run against Sand Rock on Thursday night. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

SPRING GARDEN – It appears power football is back in Spring Garden.

And it appears sophomore rusher Connor Bates is the Panthers’ next featured back.

After posting negative yardage on his first two carries of Thursday’s season-opening football game against rival Sand Rock, Bates finished with 210 yards on 18 carries, scored four touchdowns, and ran in a 2-point conversion in leading the Class 1A, No. 2 Panthers to a 40-8 victory.

Two of Bates’ touchdowns went for over 50 yards, both in the first half. The Panthers led at halftime 26-0.

“The line really helped me out a lot by getting the blocks,” Bates said. “Once I got outside, my wide receivers were blocking good and it just went from there.”

Spring Garden coach Jason Howard said Bates does a good job “when he can get the ball going north and south.”

“As he develops, he’s going to be more of that I-type running back,” Howard said. “He’s still young and he’s still got to do some stuff.”

Bates got the Panthers (1-0) on the board with under a minute to go in the first quarter on a 61-yard dash. Cam Welsh’s 2-point conversion run was stopped short of the goal line, keeping the score at 6-0 Panthers.

Quarterback Chapel Pope accounted for the Panthers’ next big play – a 78-yard scoring run with 6:16 remaining in the first half. Bates ran in the 2-point try for a 14-0 Spring Garden lead.

A Sand Rock punt and a fumble led to two more Bates scores before halftime on runs of 5 and 51 yards, providing the Panthers a 26-0 advantage.

Bates scored his final touchdown on a 10-yard run following another Sand Rock fumble with 7:34 left in the third quarter. Freshman back Clayton Sadler accounted for Spring Garden’s final touchdown on a 2-yard run with 8:20 to go in the game.

Spring Garden finished with over 400 total yards on the ground. Pope gained 110 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. Sadler added 72 yards and a score on six totes, all in the fourth quarter.

“I thought the line did a great job tonight,” Howard said. “We started a guy tonight, the first time he ever started at center in Tanner Ruark. I was really pleased with him. He was a question mark coming into the jamboree last week, but I thought he answered. He’s progressing and getting better as we go.

“I felt like Mathias Williams, Jacob Welsh, Gavin Cash and Jacob Dempsey really controlled things for us. Mathias is sort of the leader of that line. He’s started for us now for three years there. He’s got the experience. He sort of guides everything in the line. I felt they did good, and I felt the backs blocked well for each other tonight too.”

As impressive as Spring Garden’s ground attack was, the Panther defense was equally effective. The unit held the Wildcats (0-1) to just 78 yards of total offense and forced four turnovers (three fumbles recovered by John Welsh, Ruark and Jacob Welsh; and an interception by Noah Barber).

“Our first-team defense held them scoreless,” Howard said. “I felt like Coach (Barrett) Ragsdale did a good job getting everything set up with them. They flew around to the ball real well.

“I knew coming in that our defense was a little ahead of our offense. We’re still learning our identity a little bit on offense, but our defense, there’s no learning our identity. We do what we do on defense.”

Sand Rock was held to negative rushing yards until quarterback Carson Chesnut’s 64-yard touchdown run with 6:10 remaining in the game. Chesnut connected with Brian Giles for the ensuing 2-point conversion for the final.

Chesnut led the Wildcats with 55 yards on five carries and a touchdown. He also accounted for 25 yards passing.

Spring Garden travels to Coosa Christian on Friday. Sand Rock hits the road to Cedar Bluff.

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