CEDAR BLUFF — Spring Garden quarterback Chapel Pope’s eyes light up a little as he talks about his offensive line.
Yours would too if you had the holes they create to walk through and the protection they offer to get through.
Pope led the Panthers with 122 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns. He also completed 5 of 8 pass attempts for 120 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown connection with Braxton Haney to lead the Class 1A, No. 8 Panthers to a dominant 41-12 win over rival Cedar Bluff on Friday night .
“It’s easy to run after them,” Pope said. “You have some big bodies there that they move out of the way for you. That makes it a lot easier for me.”
Pope was not the only beneficiary of the Panther line blockades. Connor Bates also had a big night, rushing for 120 yards on the same number of carries as Pope with two points. Cam Welsh rushed for 68 yards on six dead.
The Panther defense wasn’t too shabby either. That unit held Cedar Bluff down for just 73 yards, including 10 plays for negative yards. It also forced the Tigers to punt seven times.
“They were all focused and played really well,” said Spring Garden coach Jason Howard. “Our defense played well, which is what we expect, and I feel like our offensive line has taken over the game a bit. (Offensive Lineman) Matthias (Williams) played a really good ball game. We had too many penalties so we need to clean that up, but after regretting that we’ll be fine.”
Spring Garden (5-1) established his dominance early on. Noah Barber recovered from a fumble by Kade Browning in the third play of the game and gave the ball to the Panthers near midfield.
It took Pope and the offense just six games to take the lead. Pope finished the 46-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. Welsh’s extra point made it 7-0 Spring Garden with 8-10 in the first quarter.
The Panther defense forced Cedar Bluff (3-3) into his next possession, and once again Spring Garden scored a touchdown. This time, Bates topped an 8-play drive with his 1-yard touchdown run, giving the Panthers a 14-0 advantage by the end of the first quarter.
Cedar Bluff got the break early in the second quarter after a Bates fumble recovered deep in Spring Garden territory by Hagen Stallings, but the Panther defense stiffened, forcing the Tigers to a 25-yard field goal to kick. Carter Dillingham’s attempt was not good.
Pope blew up for the Panthers’ next result late in the second quarter when he found an open Haney for a 75-yard touchdown. Spring Garden led 21-0 at half time.
Bates opened the third quarter with a 60-yard scoring scamper to give the Panthers a 28-0 lead. After a tiger punt, Pope hit a 54-yard run on his last carry of the game at the 8:36 mark. Pope’s last touchdown gave Spring Garden a 35-0 lead.
Panther backup quarterback Barber connected with Welsh on a 4-yard touchdown throw to end the third quarter and take Spring Garden’s lead to 41-0.
The only drama left in the game was whether Spring Garden’s reserves could save the shutout, but Cedar Bluff managed two points. The first was a 64-yard Kaden pack touchdown connection with Aden Green with 3:17 remaining. Hunter Stallings hit a 15-yard run in the final play of the game.
Pack led Cedar Bluff by completing 5 of 8 attempts for passes for 120 yards and a touchdown. It was the second straight game he started in place of Bucky Leek, who is still recovering from a sprained ankle.
“It was a good game for us to get better,” Pope said. “It’s a good win against a good rival. It makes you feel better about yourself. It makes you more confident, but the region matters most. We have TCC (Talladega County Central) next week. We’re looking forward to that now.”
Cedar Bluff is also jumping back into regional play at Valley Head next Friday.
A NOTICE: Cedar Bluff honored two of his Hall of Famers, Jim Bouchillon and David Bedwell, ahead of Friday night’s game against Spring Garden.
Bouchillon played football at Cedar Bluff High School for five years and was a member of two state championship teams (1962-63). He was an All-State selection in both seasons and played on Tiger teams that went a combined 38-0-1 from 1959–62.
Bouchillon went on to play football at Auburn University, where he was a starter for three years. While playing on the freshmen team in 1964, he was coached by the legendary Vince Dooley. During his tenure at Auburn, he started at full-back and defensive end.
Bedwell played football at Cedar Bluff High School for five years. He was an All-State selection in two of those years (1962-63). Cedar Bluff football teams went 47-1-2 during his tenure. He then played college football at the University of Alabama, where he won a national championship and was a member of two bowl victories.
After graduating from the University of Alabama, Bedwell became a successful coach in various sports, including football, basketball, track and field, and tennis. His successful coaching career has spanned three district girls’ basketball championships, three district girls’ basketball championships, and culminated in a 1987 girls’ basketball championship at Spring Garden High School.
Bedwell is the only person in Cherokee County history to win a state championship as both a high school player and coach and a national championship as a collegiate player.