SMITHFIELD — When Bruton High coach Tracy Harrod addressed his players in the moments after the regular-season finale Friday, he had no idea whom they'll face in the first round of the 2A East Region playoffs — and he didn't care.
In the wake of the Panthers' 26-10 win at Smithfield, Harrod was more interested in telling his players how proud he was of their turnaround from a 3-7 record a year ago to 7-3 this season.
"This was a great regular season," he told them. "We bounced back from a lot of adversity, and when Tabb blanked us (by 41-0), I wasn't worried one little bit.
"I knew we'd bounce back. We talked about finishing 3-0 and we finished 3-0."
As a result the Panthers open the playoffs as at least the No. 5 seed, with a guarantee of at least one home game. They could even be No. 4 and play at "The Pit" in the first two rounds.
The Pit is a grass field with often-difficult footing after even a little rain. That's exactly what they faced at Smithfield, and it did not faze them.
Neither team put up gaudy numbers, but the Panthers made big plays on both sides of the ball when needed. The line led an effective ball-control offense in the second half, paving the way for 119 yards rushing by Kapri Doucet, who surpassed 1,000 yards for the season.
"That was a great effort by the offensive line and a great team effort overall," Doucet said.
Smithfield, which needed a win to return to the regional playoffs, used a turnover and a time-consuming drive to take an early lead. Deontra Warren sacked Bruton quarterback Bilal Wallace, forcing a fumble that Walter Scott recovered at midfield.
The Packers (4-6) improved that field position on Lowell Patron's 20-yard completion to James Green. Otherwise, the Packers relied on the rushing of freshman Donald King to get as far as the Panthers' 10 before the drive stalled.
Colin Gary salvaged the series with a 36-yard field goal to give the Packers a 3-0 lead with 2:44 to play in the first quarter. Bruton owned the rest of the first half.
Doucet ran for 28 yards and had 27 yards on a reception as the Panthers drove 79 yards in seven plays for the go-ahead touchdown. Doucet ran the final 7 yards to make it 6-3 with 9:52 to play in the first half.
Michael Sangalang forced and recovered a Patron fumble to give the Panthers the ball at the Smithfield 40 midway through the second quarter. Wallace's 10-yard completion to Daniel Jones was the highlight of a 10-play drive for the Panthers, who increased their lead to 12-3 with 2:26 to play in the first half on Doucet's 5-yard sweep around left end.
Kyle Mackem and Ian Gruver led a defensive effort that ensured Bruton kept its nose in front throughout the second half. The only mystery after halftime was whether Doucet and Smithfield freshman King would break 1,000 yards rushing.
Doucet did so first with 31 yards on a fourth-quarter touchdown drive, culminating in Wallace's 17-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Jones. That gave the Panthers a 20-3 lead with 4:34 remaining.
King (21 carries, 166 yards) went over 1,000 yards in style, with a four-carry flurry good for 64 yards. The carry that put him over 1,000 was a 25-yard touchdown, but it came too late to threaten the outcome.
BRUTON 26, SMITHFIELD 10
Bruton: 0....12....0....14 - 26
Smithfield: 3....0....0....7 - 10
Smi: FG Gary 36, :15
Bru: Doucet 7 run (kick failed), 9:52
Bru: Doucet 5 run (pass failed), 2:44
Bru: Jones 17 pass from Wallace (Taylor pass from Wallace), 4:34
Smi: King 25 run (Gary kick), 2:14
Bru: Dockery 20 run (kick failed), 1:09
First downs: 13; 12
Rushes-yards: 42-126; 38-156
Passing yards: 69; 58
Comp-Att-Int: 4-12-0; 4-12-1
Penalties-yards: 4-23; 6-72
Punts-avg: 4-37; 5-39.4
Fumbles-lost: 2-1; 2-1
O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963