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Greenville edges Smiths Station as time expires

It wasn't pretty by any stretch of the imagination. But for a team that hasn't opened the season with a win in a handful of years, for a team that has found a way to lose close games the last couple of seasonsit was just what the doctor ordered.

Greenville High School's Roderick Owens dove into the end zone for a touchdown as the final horn sounded to give the Tigers a thrilling 18-12 win over the Class 6A Smiths Station Panthers in the season opener for both teams Friday night at Tiger Stadium. Owens touchdown came on a botched field goal attempt on Greenville's final possession of the night setting off a wild celebration among the Tiger faithful as the visiting Panthers looked on in disbelief.

"I hope this sets the tone

(for the season)," GHS Coach Alvin Briggs said. "This has to be a big boost to these kids to win a close one. That's something they haven't done in the past."

Briggs said he never lost faith in his team despite a sluggish first half that saw the Tigers turn the ball over in crucial situations and commit penalties that killed drives. "We had a lot of mistakes," he said. "We dropped a ball here, we had a bad snap there, all of those were things that hurt us. We just tried to correct those at halftime and do a better job in the second half."

Smiths Station drew first blood, punching the ball into the end zone midway through the first period. The score came on a three-yard run by Harry Cox. The extra point attempt by Jeff Carrero failed but with six minutes left in the opening quarter the Panthers led 6-0.

That's the way it stayed throughout the remainder of the first half with Greenville failing to generate much offense and Smiths Station falling short on a handful of drives.

On its first possession of the second half Greenville took control of the ball at its own 32 following a Smiths Station punt. An 18-yard run by Andrew Tomlin quickly put GHS in Panther territory at the 48. Two plays later quarterback Jacoby Thagard sprinted 25 yards down the right sideline to give the Tigers a first down at the 11. A running play by Antonio Mack gained two yards and a pass from Thagard to Fred Mack fell incomplete before Tomlin took the ball around left end for the touchdown from nine yards out. The extra point attempt failed but with 5:11 left in the third period GHS had pulled even at 6-6.

Greenville took its first lead of the game early in the fourth quarter following a Smiths Station punt. Taking possession at their own 38 it took the Tigers one play to score when Thagard ran the option to his left, turned up field and outran the defenders to the end zone on a 62-yard scamper. Once again the extra point attempt failed leaving Greenville with a 12-6 advantage with 9:54 to play.

The Panthers refused to fold and rallied to tie the score late in the period. Quarterback Shawn Wikoff connected with Travis Hardy on 10-yard pass to put Smiths Station in Greenville territory. A 15-yard run by Adrian Washington moved the ball to the GHS 15.

The GHS defense stiffened in the shadow of its own goal line but on fourth and four Wikoff connected with Hardy from the nine to tie the game 12-12 with 3:42 remaining to play. The extra point attempt failed setting the stage for Greenville's miracle finish.

Starting at their own 10 the Tigers mixed the run and pass effectively to march down the field for the game winning score. Thagard, Antonio Mack and Tomlin all picked up key yards on the ground, but the big play was a 35-yard reception by J.C. Anderson to give Greenville a first down inside the Smiths Station 20 with just over a minute to play.

After an apparent touchdown by Tomlin was wiped out by a penalty, Greenville caught a break when Smiths Station was called for interference giving the Tigers the ball at the 10. Two passes fell incomplete before a running play got the ball to the eight and Briggs called on Owens to try to pull out the win with a field goal. When the snap was misplayed Owens scooped up the loose ball and raced to his right. Finding no room there he reversed field where a wall of blockers had formed. Leaving his feet at the five-yard line he fell into the end zone as the horn sounded setting the stage for one of the wildest celebrations in recent memory at Tiger Stadium.

"I really felt like something good was going to happen for us tonight,' Briggs said of Owens heads up play. "We've got a good group of young men who simply refuse to lose."

In his third season at the helm of the Tigers, Briggs said he feels good about the character of his team, especially the bond that's forming among the group. "Coming into the season I told our older guys I wanted them to mentors to these younger guys," he explained. "I also wanted them to do things together to get to know each other better. That's what we've seen happen and its good for this team."

Thagard led Greenville's offensive attack with 130 yards rushing on 15 carries. He also completed six of 12 passes for 90 yards. Defensively, Rod Owens, Kelcius Savage, Andy Beck and Bryant Crum had solid games for the Tigers.

Greenville returns to action next week, taking on Carroll of Ozark in a Class 5A battle at Tiger Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.