What was perhaps the observation of the year came at midseason from Lakeside coach Jody Grooms:
"Dadgum, he spanked it,"
Grooms was speaking Oct. 3 of kicker Michael Combs' game-winning 48-yard field goal.
The kick was Combs' first attempt of the year, and it beat Hephzibah and gave new life to the Panthers' season. The win was Lakeside's second consecutive region victory. It had dropped its first two in region play.
The win was probably Lakeside's biggest to that point, and you might say Combs' kick was the key play to that point, too.
Combs has been making clutch plays all season. In addition to the 48-yarder, which observers say would have been good from much longer, he routinely pins opponents deep in their own territory with precise punts. His booming kickoffs often leave little opportunity for returns.
"He's got a lot of ability," Grooms said. "His leg's real explosive."
Combs' ability in the clutch might be a carryover from the soccer field, where he is a standout goalkeeper for the Panthers. Last season's highlights include a game at Evans during which Combs stopped four penalty kicks to preserve the Panthers' win.
His keeper's jersey that night bore a Clemson Tiger paw, but he doesn't pledge an allegiance to a particular school. Combs said he's contacted various college soccer coaches via e-mail to try to get the process going, but it's difficult.
He feels like he might get more exposure on the football field.
"More people watch football games," Combs said.
He has taken the necessary steps to improve on the gridiron. He attended a Ray Guy football camp during the summer and learned kicking fundamentals after having spent last football season on the road playing soccer.
Now, he practices his punts enough to drive Grooms crazy during practice, with moments of instruction interrupted by footballs falling from the sky.
Grooms said he thinks his senior kicker will have a shot to play at the next level. More schools might be inclined to watch Combs with a few more field goal attempts.
Grooms' "dadgum" observation was directed at Combs' kick near the end of the third quarter during the Panthers' 18-16 win over the Rebels. The coach said he would have tried Combs from 55 yards. even during a game that close. The senior also booted three of four kickoffs into the end zone.
"I said I've got to hit this; it's time to kick it," Combs said. "If I missed that one, I probably wouldn't get another chance."
Grooms' trust shined in contrast to Hephzibah's hesitance during the fourth quarter, when the Rebels passed up a 44-yard attempt and were stuffed on fourth down.
Grooms said he was set on kicking the field goal when the Panthers faced third-and-long and a 43-yarder. The Rebels stopped Lakeside for a loss, and the winning attempt became 5 yards longer.
"When it came off his foot, I started laughing," Grooms said. "It had a certain sound to it. You knew he spanked it."
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