By Will Heath, For The Tribune
LEEDS — Two special teams errors by the visiting Southside High School Panthers helped spark the Leeds offense on Friday night.
A stifling defense made sure that was all the Green Wave would need.
Leeds’ defense limited the visitors from Gadsden to 158 total yards for the entire game Friday, allowing them across the Homer Smiles Field 50-yard line once. The Green Wave won the game 24-6.
“We knew they (Southside) were physical,” said Leeds senior CJ Douglas, who also took time at half to serve as Homecoming King. “We knew this would be our toughest test yet.
“We just said we can’t quit. When you get hit in the mouth, you can’t quit,” he added. “I think we really took that to heart.”
The punch in the mouth came in the second quarter, as Southside’s Jordan Bryan received a pass from quarterback Brooks Nesmith 20 yards away from the nearest defender. His catch and run covered 84 yards, and Leeds trailed 6-0, its first deficit since Week 0.
“It was a busted coverage,” Douglas said. “They do a great job moving our eyes with their motion.”
Leeds (6-0, 4-0) would take advantage of its kicking game to wrest control from the visitors.
First, the Green Wave responded to the Panther TD by driving into position for a 40-yard Jackson Arthur field goal. Then, when it looked like the half would end on that score, a Nesmith punt landed at the Panther 43-yard line.
Leeds quarterback Jarod Latta found Jaelyn Felder down the sideline for a 48-yard TD, and the Green Wave led 10-6 at intermission.
In the third quarter, Leeds took advantage of another gift, as Southside’s Koal Garrett mishandled a punt at their own 11-yard line. Leeds came up with the football, and one play later sophomore Conner Nelson charged through the middle for a 17-6 Green Wave advantage.
“You trust your players to make plays,” Southside head coach Mike Holcomb said after the game. “Sometimes it works out. Tonight it just didn’t work out.”
For the game, Leeds tailback Miles Jones led all rushers, with 154 yards on 23 carries. Jones’ fourth-quarter touchdown, from 6 yards away, sealed the deal on the win.
“I was just glad we got to go through this,” Leeds head coach Jerry Hood said after the game. “This (Southside) is a really good football team.”
Nelson finished with 76 yards rushing and receiving, and scored another touchdown. For the Panthers (5-2, 3-1) Nesmith finished with 145 yards passing, most of it on the 84-yard touchdown.
“We always play with effort,” Holcomb said. “Effort’s never an issue with this team. We know we have to do better. Players have to play better; coaches have to scheme better; we have to prepare better.”
The Green Wave can now look ahead to its two most important road trips of the season, beginning with a visit to Alexandria next Friday. The Valley Cubs have defeated Leeds the past 2 seasons to win 5A Region 6.
“You better not look ahead to other teams on your schedule,” Hood said. “We have got to prepare for Alexandria. Those kids know how to win, they fight hard.
“That’s how we do. We just want to look ahead to the next week.”