Oak Mountain beats Pelham for first time since 2008

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor 

NORTH SHELBY – In a clash of county rivals, the Oak Mountain Eagles were able to capitalize on a strong defensive performance to pick up a 21-7 victory over the Pelham Panthers on Friday, Sept. 27, for their first victory in the rivalry since 2008.

While the two teams played for all but two years from 2000-2013, the rivalry took a hiatus from 2013 until last year when it was renewed in the form of a 52-21 victory for the Panthers. That win extended the Panthers streak to seven in a row and didn’t settle well with the Eagles.

And while many may have forgotten about the intenseness of the rivalry between the two, Oak Mountain head coach Cris Bell hadn’t. 

“Look, I was 0-3 against them prior to tonight, so you better believe I consider this a rivalry,” Bell said after the win. “It’s freaking awesome to get that win. I don’t care if it was 3-2, we just needed a win tonight. I’d rather have beaten them 49-7, but 21-7 is fine and we’re going to be happy with it.”

Early in the game, it was a defensive slugfest for the two teams sitting at a combined 1-8 coming into the matchup, but the Eagles were able to get the scoring started on a 20-yard touchdown run from Johnathan Bennett with 1:05 remaining in the opening quarter for a 7-0 lead.

That seemed to settle both teams down offensively for the time being and in less than a minute, the Panthers had an answer when athlete Walker Lyles found a hole up the right side for a 68-yard touchdown run to even the score with 16 seconds to play in the quarter.

From that point forward, however, Oak Mountain’s defense locked down. Their effort, along with that of the special teams, helped flip the field for the rest of the game, which kept the Panthers from finding the end zone again.

“I’m really proud of the way we played defensively tonight, particularly after giving up that long run,” Bell said. “As much as we’ve struggled defensively this year, it would have been easy at that point to fold up, but they hung in there and in the second half, the defense just played lights out.”

In a game that had seen two explosive plays in two drives, Oak Mountain receiver Devin Holden made it three in three consecutive drives when he caught a quick swing pass from Evan Smith and found a seam up the right sideline before sprinting 55 yards to the house to put the Eagles back on top 14-7 with 10:45 to play in the second quarter.

That ended up being the final lead change of the night, as the Eagles never relinquished the lead again.

After going into the half down 14-7, Pelham hoped to come out and put together a strong drive to start the second half thanks to starting with the ball.

The Panthers were able to put together a nice 10-play drive behind big plays from Gabe Gamble and Xavier Lankford, but a fumble ended up pushing them into a third-and-15 before a fake field goal ended in a turnover on downs.

Pelham went on to struggle offensively after that with four three-and-outs on its next five drives and just one first down during that span.

One of those possessions ended in a dropped punt inside the Panthers’ 5-yard line, which led to the Eagles taking over at the 3-yard line.

On the first play of the final quarter, freshman running back Mark Johnson was able to get around the edge and break a tackle before falling into the end zone to extend Oak Mountain’s lead to the final score of 21-7.

“Mark’s a kid that is playing a little bit of everywhere,” Bell said. “That’s a lot to ask of a freshman, but he’s a smart kid and a heck of an athlete.”

Smith finished the game 6-of-18 for 149 yards and one touchdown passing, while also adding 40 yards on 15 carries. Holden was the leading receiver with five receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown, while Judah Tait led the ground game with 75 yards on 17 carries. Bennett added 54 yards on nine carries.

Juston Taylor led the defense with five tackles, while Braxton O’Brien added five tackles, including two sacks and three tackles for loss.

Pelham was led by Lyles with his touchdown run and 78 total rushing yards on two carries, while Lankford finished with 15 carries for 48 yards and 54 passing yards on 8-of-22 passing.

Oak Mountain improved to 2-3 on the season and will travel to 5-0 Mountain Brook next week. Pelham fell to 0-5 on the season and will have a home game against Carver-Birmingham next week.

Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com.