To Southwest DeKalb head coach Damien Wimes, Friday night’s 26-14 win at Lovejoy meant more.
It meant more than upping the Panthers’ winning streak to three games. It meant more than going on the road and beating a previously unbeaten team. It meant more than holding Lovejoy (3-1), which hung 61 points on Drew last week, scoreless into the fourth quarter. To Wimes, the win was another watermark in the rebirth of one of the most storied and successful programs in the state.
“I’m so proud of these kids and the way they played tonight,” an emotional Wimes said after the game. “They came into a hostile environment against a very good team, and played really well. They stepped up. They stepped up all week, in school, in the community. I can see them growing. This is one of the proudest moments I have had as a coach.”
Wimes said he was proud of his staff as well, especially second-year offensive coordinator Eric Ward, a former Southwest DeKalb quarterback in the mid 2000’s.
“I’m so happy for him,” Wimes said. “He’s a great alum. He won a national championship in college [FBS Richmond]. He’s a great young coach, and the kids believe in him. They’re responding to him and it’s great to see that.”
One of those offensive players buying into what Ward is selling is perhaps the most important player on that side of the ball, quarterback Rion White. The 6-5, 200-pound junior piloted the Panther’s zone-read spread attack with efficiency and poise, and capped three first half scoring drives with touchdown runs of 1, 1 and 3 yards give Southwest DeKalb an 18-0 lead at the break.
“I’m proud of Rion White,” Wimes said. “Being the starting quarterback at Southwest DeKalb is like being the mayor of Decatur. He’s handling that well. He really stepped up tonight. He extended plays with his legs like we’ve talked to him about doing. He played really well tonight.”
White and the Panther offense put the game away for good midway through the third quarter when they cashed in on a 70-yard drive with a 10-yard run around the left side by senior Mekhi Gilstrap. White’s conversion pass to junior Tory Jones put Southwest DeKalb up 26-0 with six minutes to go in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, the Panther defense stymied Lovejoy’s spread attack and strong-armed senior quarterback Khalil Arnold all night. The Wildcats scored two late fourth-quarter touchdowns, on passes from Arnold to Antonio Jones and Donte Rolan for 11 and 5 yards, respectively.
But the night belonged to the Panthers and Wimes, who is on a quest to restore the pride and the soul of the program built by legendary Hall of Fame coach Buck Godfrey (1983-2012).
“I feel like this is God moving,” Wimes said. “To watch these young, black boys grow up and step up like they did tonight and like they did in the classroom and in school and in our community. It’s just so great to see.
“Now get a week off to rest up and heal up,” said Wimes, who last season led Southwest DeKalb to its first region championship since 2009 and its first undefeated regular season since 1999. “We get to regroup and get ourselves ready to go after another region championship.”
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