By FRANCIS FEDOR
Sumner extracted a measure of revenge for a regular season loss in its 40-25 victory over the Durant Cougars on Friday night. The Stingrays face Plant HS on Friday night at 7:30 PM in the FHSAA Regional Finals.
The ‘Rays only loss this season was a 28-27 defeat in a game that spanned two days because of weather at Durant. QB Greg Smith and a number of other Stingray starters were sidelined for that game. Thunderstorms created an unplayable environment that required Sumner to return to Durant the next morning for a 9 a.m. start with only three officials. Durant was the only loss in their inaugural 2020-21 season and has managed to find a way to win in each of the past four match-ups. That all started to change when the FHSAA brackets were released and Sumner, despite Durant’s winning the district, was selected as the top seed, and Durant fell to a five seed. All Sumner needed to do to setup a rematch was to defeat Riverview and the Cougars win their first-round game. The stars aligned and the ‘Rays had their fifth chance. And the cherry on top was the opportunity to eliminate Durant from the playoffs, which they did. No rain, no thunder, no excuses. Finally.
On a great night for football, Sumner continued its string of scoring first, this time with a six-yard completion from Greg Smith III to Charlie Bartling for the touchdown. The Stingrays went to the ground for the second score, handing the ball to Darius Smith for a three-yard dash into the end-zone. Sumner failed on both scores to add on the extra points and took a 12-0 lead to the second half. Darius Smith was on the receiving end of a Greg Smith pass to put the Stingrays up 19-0, and the Tank sensed the moment. The Cougars weren’t going to go quietly and scored on a 4th and 9 as a Durant receiver found open space and raced into the end-zone. The Stingrays added a TD just before the half to take a 26-7 lead into the locker room.
The Sumner defense stalled Durant’s first third-quarter possession and conceded only a field goal, a big moment in the game as it would turn out. The Stingrays only third-quarter score was a familiar connection between QB Smith and Malik Brown, who battled the defender for the ball to notch the TD. The game seemed all but decided, but on the ensuing kickoff Sumner allowed one of the Cougar returners to take the ball down to the 10-yard line. The ‘Rays had kicked away from the Cougar returners all night, forcing short returns until then. Durant punched it in for the score, keeping dim Cougar hopes alive. Sumner QB Smith again found Bartling to push the lead back to 23. Durant scored late in the fourth to close within 14, but it was a costly score as an injured Cougar required EMS and was taken off the field by ambulance. The ‘Rays also battled a number of in-game injuries to key starters. Junior WR Tyler Williams left the game after a lower leg injury on Sumner’s first drive. Seniors Devin Spencer and dynamic WR Malik Brown both left but returned with minor injuries.
The game was sealed by a timely Cash Caldwell interception in the end-zone. The offense took the field and Greg Smith took a knee to run off the rest of the clock and history was made. Senior safety Cash Caldwell became the Stingray leader in interceptions. Alonzo Ashwood had his Durant win. And the Sumner football program had its first FHSAA Regional Finals appearance. The coaches, players, and administration hope that the Cinderella season continues with a successful night vs. Plant HS. The Stingrays have faced the Panthers twice. The first game was a regular season 25-15 home loss on Oct. 1, 2021.
The second meeting was last season in a first round playoff game on the road at Plant, a heartbreaking 37-34 loss. Sumner looks to avenge that result this Friday with Plant traveling to the Tank. A Stingray victory would move Sumner to within a win of being in the state title game.