That’s when Matt Stevens got off his feet.
With North Carroll driving for the potential go-ahead touchdown, Stevens went high in the air to pick off a pass and halt the Panthers’ momentum, helping the Leopards pull out a 29-17 win at Coach Carroll Reid Field.
“He had been getting too far up on the line of scrimmage and the quarterback was running the draw right past him,” said Smithsburg coach Buddy Orndorff. “We started getting him to stay back. He read that and played that well.”
The Leopards (2-0) were helped when North Carroll was flagged for holding on the play before the interception, negating a touchdown pass that would have given the Panthers a 23-22 lead. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was also tacked on, moving North Carroll from first-and-10 at the 12 to first-and-39 at the 41.
Eli Unger dropped back to pass and Stevens floated back in coverage, then leaped to make the catch and turn the tide the Leopards’ way, leading 22-17 with 6:06 remaining.
Two plays later, Stevens nearly put the game out of reach, rumbling 67 yards before being knocked out of bounds at the 1.
“It was nice to see we didn’t totally forget how to trap,” Orndorff said.
Smithsburg was unable to score on that possession, however, and North Carroll took over at its own 2. Unger gained one first down before Smithsburg’s Austin Ryan pulled in another interception, returning it 37 yards to the Panthers 4 with just over a minute left to play.
“He made a great run on the interception, kept his feet making the catch,” Orndorff said. “A lot of kids make that pick and just stroll with the ball. He made a hard run and wanted to score.”
Ryan scored on the next play from scrimmage and kicked the extra point for the final margin.
Smithsburg started strong, scoring twice in the first five minutes of the game. Zach Krall connected with Brian Orndorff for a 10-yard touchdown pass just 84 seconds into the game.
After Colby Messersmith intercepted North Carroll starting quarterback Terin Kelsey, the Leopards needed just five plays to find the end zone again, as Krall hit Stevens for a 31-yard scoring strike.
Smithsburg had a short field again after Ryan Little recovered a fumble at the North Carroll 33, but the Panthers stuffed Smithsburg at the 1.
The Leopards returned the favor, keeping the Panthers deep in their end and recording a safety for a 16-0 lead when North Carroll’s center snapped the ball over the punter’s head and out of the end zone.
Smithsburg led 16-2 at halftime, but Unger began leading the Panthers back in the third quarter. He threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Sean Floto, and a two-point conversion cut the deficit to 16-10.
Krall scored on a 1-yard run to push Smithsburg back in front 22-10, but Unger answered with a 45-yard touchdown pass to Dan Gebhart to make it 22-17.
“I just think the kids got a little complacent. We have to work on getting our focus back,” Orndorff said. “We’ll drive that point home on Monday.”
Smithsburg 29, North Carroll 17