Tiftarea Panthers push forward in state playoffs

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      CHULA– The Panthers seemed to be feeling themselves again after defeating the Deerfield-Windsor High School Knights in the Panther Pit 35-0. The Panthers advanced their season record to 6-2 with one game left in the regular season.

      Starting quarterback Logan Crosson and his offense played a hard first series but unfortunately suffered a turnover. Senior running back and linebacker, Jaden Jones, played both sides of the field that night with intensity. With Jones and Jackson Hoover on defense, the Panthers did not give up a first down to the Knights after turning the ball over.

      Senior wide receiver Will Ross had an incredible game in the first half. Ross caught the first touchdown and started the night off for the Panther’s right. Instead of going for two-point conversions all night, Soliday had Jayk Sailer kick an extra point for all five. Sailer completed five out of five extra-point attempts. After the first touchdown, things on the field began to get tense. Initially, the Knights received the first flags for non-sportsmanship conduct and pass interference.

      The double flag from the refs helped Crosson push his team closer to the endzone and he was able to use a quarterback keep completing the second touchdown of the night.

      The Knights looked helpless on the field in the first half against both the Panther’s defense and offense. The halftime score was 14-0 and the Panthers ran off the field looking and feeling confident for the second half.

     Unfortunately, after Crosson returned to the field, he threw his one and only interception of the night to Knights defensive back Harren Bettis. However, the Knights offense had no success moving the ball towards the endzone and once again had to punt the ball away on fourth down.

      Crosson was given another chance to score, so he threw the ball to his most trusted senior running back, Adam McKinney, who came inches from getting a touchdown. With the prime field location McKinney fought for, Crosson easily ran the ball inside for a touchdown on the next play.

     The score moved to 21-0 with 4 minutes left in the third quarter and the Knights still couldn’t put any points on the board. Before the third quarter could end though, Crosson found Ross in the endzone for a fourth touchdown for the Panthers and Ross’s second touchdown of the night.

     Unfortunately, the referees deemed a celebration by Ross as un-sportsmanlike, and Ross was ejected from the game. Head Coach Erik Soliday stormed after the referee hoping to change his mind but once Ross was ejected, the decision was made final.

     The Panthers used the ejection of one of their players as motivation to punish the Knights even harder. Tiftarea started running the ball and taking as much time away from the Knights as they could.

     An unfamiliar sight, Dylan Harbor played as quarterback during the fourth quarter. He earned the last and final touchdown of the night by using a quarterback keep and running for the touchdown.

    Unlike the two losses before the game against the Knights, Soliday reported that he was very pleased with how the team played.

     “We came out and played with a little emotion tonight and we had a good week of preparation that paid off in the game,” said Soliday. “And we played with a little enthusiasm that we haven’t played with in a while and this is what we are capable of when we do play that way.”

     The Tiftarea Panthers played their final regular-season game on Nov. 8, against the Southland Academy Raiders. The Panthers were defeated 14-7, and according to Soliday, the team didn’t play a complete game.

     Coley scored the only touchdown of the game when the Panthers were down 14-0, but they couldn’t pull together to push the Raiders off. The loss impacted the placement of the Panthers in the playoffs.

     For many fans, they thought this would be the end of the road for the Panther’s season. The loss against Southland Academy sent the Panthers on the road to a neutral stadium in Statesboro to play against the Bulloch Academy Gators.

    For many of the stars on the field, the game against the Gators came close to be their last night on the field as a player in a high school football game.

    The Panthers fought and clawed their way to a victory in the fourth quarter when Sailer kicked the game-winning field goal, 14-7.

     Crosson, McKinny, Harbor, Jones, Coley and Sailer will have their next chance to stay in the running for the GISA Class AAA State Championship. The Panthers will meet Heritage Acadamy for a re-match in the second round of the playoffs.

     The last time the Panthers played against Heritage, the team left defeated, 29-6. Hopefully, the Panthers will lineup on Friday ready to serve up a much-needed victory.

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