FORT WAYNE – Snider secured its sixth Class 5A sectional title in a row with two big punt returns and a goal-line defensive stop Friday night as it defeated North Side 24-14 at Chambers Field.
The No. 4 Panthers (12-0) will play Fishers (9-3), a 38-13 winner in its sectional finals, in a regional game next week at Wayne. Snider is tied with Bishop Luers and Bishop Dwenger for the third-most sectional titles in state history with 21.
That was a well-earned victory, Panthers coach Kurt Tippmann said.
Snider went into halftime trailing North Side 14-13 thanks to the first big punt return of the night by Quinton Daniels, who scored on a 61-yard return with 48 seconds left in the half. The Panthers missed the point-after attempt.
Daniels set up the game-winning touchdown with a 32-yard return with 6:30 to play in the third quarter that put Snider on North Side’s 24. After the return, running back Je’Norie Smith scored from 6 yards with 6:05 left in the third.
I knew we needed a spark on special teams, because we work hard all week on it, Daniels said. Special teams always means a lot to us in every game. Special teams is a big thing that a lot of teams don’t work on, and if we can execute like we want to it really helps us a lot.
Smith ran for 130 yards and also scored Snider’s first touchdown, ending the game’s first drive with a 2-yard score. After his second touchdown, Smith ran in for the two-point conversion to give the Panthers a 21-14 lead.
North Side followed Smith’s second touchdown by putting together a 14-play drive to Snider’s 1. But the Panthers kept the Redskins out of the end zone by stopping running back Anthony Linnear, who ran for 100 yards and a score, twice and quarterback C.J. Jackson, who threw for 174 yards with a TD, once with 49 seconds left in the third quarter.
Snider’s Josh Spitnale kicked a 25-yard field goal with 3:41 to play to produce the final score.
Every great team has to have a great defensive stop, Tippmann said. We tell that to our guys all the time, championships are won by great defensive efforts, and that was certainly the case.
North Side responded to going down 7-0 in the opening four minutes by scoring the next two touchdowns. Linnear tied the game on an 8-yard run with 3 seconds left in the first quarter, and Jackson connected with Demond Gaston for a 22-yard touchdown throw and a 14-7 lead with 6:56 to play in the first half.
But the Redskins couldn’t score again as the Panthers reeled off the game’s final 17 points to defeat North Side on its home field for the second time this year.
Somebody had to lose, North Side coach Ryan Hall said. We had a good season. It’s hard to look at that now, but playing in the first sectional championship since 1990 is something they should be proud of.