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With tough contests behind them, Raiders, Panthers, Wildcats look to shine against future opponents

By MICHAEL MURRAY
michael.murray@americustimesrecorder.com

AMERICUS – Last weekend was a tough one for local football fans. With the odds heavily stacked against them, the Americus-Sumter High School (ASHS) Panthers and the Southland Academy Raiders both suffered significant defeats in the teams’ season openers. That same evening, the Schley County Wildcats took the field for the team’s first live scrimmage of the season against the Tatnall Square Trojans with similar results. Despite the games’ outcomes, all three teams put up quite a fight and exhibited moments of top-knotch play that will, hopefully, increase in frequency as the season progresses.
The deck was seemingly stacked against both the Raiders and the Panthers from the kickoff, however, as both teams  were outmatched against a couple of established powerhouses from the start.
In what is likely to be one of the team’s toughest contests of the season, The Panthers faced off against the Smiths Station, AL Panthers, a Class 7A opponent to kickoff football season in Americus. The difference in class, in this case, gave the Alabama Panthers a marked advantage over their much smaller Class AAAA opponents. This Class difference means that Smiths Station has a much larger student population to pick their football prospects from as well as a great deal more funding for the school’s football program. Paired with the fact that Smiths Station brought 18 returning seniors to the field, including a very experienced and surprisingly accurate quarterback, it’s easy to understand why the ASHS Panthers had a tough time gaining ground in this match.
Facing off against the 2014 GISA Class AAA champions, the Southland Raiders suffered a similar fate at the hands of the Westfield Hornets in the team’s season opener at Harvey Simpson Field that same night. With at least 10 seniors returning from their 2014-15 team, the Hornets brought a great deal more experience to the field than the young Raiders, who lost many of their older team members to graduation last year.
With a starting lineup composed of mostly freshmen and sophomores, Schley County’s Wildcats also ran into difficulty against the more experienced Trojans, who brought more than twice the number of experienced players to the gridiron as Schley currently has to offer. The Wildcats began making more moves in the second half of the scrimmage, however, as the Trojans began to give some of their younger team members some playing time, evening the playing field. “We were matched up better age-wise and in experience, so it was a better second half,” Schley head coach, Mark Daniel, said.
That’s certainly not to say that the local teams did not play quality football over the weekend, of course. As the teams progressed through the game and found their footing on the field, the Raiders, Panthers, and Wildcats went on to make some excellent plays that kept their supporters cheering and offered a glimpse of what’s soon-to-come as region play approaches.
The Panthers brought several against-the-odds surprises to the field that caught their opponents off guard and made the home crowd erupt into applause. With incredible quickness and agility, Panther running backs Eric Brown and Kobe Lewis, alongside wide receivers, AJ Payne, and Darion Tyson, kept the visiting opponents on their toes throughout the match. ASHS quarterback, Mekall Yancie, showcased his speed several times for significant gain as linemen Tyler Clark and Benjamin Walters used their imposing size to make way for their team’s offensive plays.
Southland fans got a taste of sophomore Jamaal Rice’s gridiron talent on the field Friday night as he used his quick feet to slip past opponents and make some big plays for the Raiders. At the same time, junior Alex Roach broke through with several key passes that found their marks and freshman Patrick Weldon showed the Hornets that he came to play with a series of carries that gained the team hard-earned yardage. Senior Taylor Weldon showed off his deft hands as well, pulling down the first three of many receptions to come this season.
With this first bump in the road under their belts, the Raiders and Panthers each have two more non-conference games to work the bugs out of their game before the real action, region play, begins. Schley County is scheduled to begin their regular season on September 4 before diving into region play the following week. With this portion of the season closing in quickly, the Panthers, Raiders, and Wildcats are busily preparing, eagerly anticipating taking the gridiron against more evenly-matched opponents.
The Panthers head to Montezuma on August 28 to face a familiar foe, the Class AA Macon County Bulldogs.
ASHS faced Macon County last season, bringing home a 28-23 win from the contest and will bring all of their talents to the field this year in hopes of a repeat performance. The Bulldogs wrapped up the 2014-15 season with an overall record of 9-3.
The Raiders will be heading to Lyons to face the Class AA Toombs Christian Academy Crusaders, whom the team defeated 32-20 last season, an outcome that they would certainly like to see again. The Crusaders finished last season with an overall record of 9-3.
The following week on September 4, the Panthers will return to Finklea-Robinson field to battle the Shaw Raiders. Shaw finished last season with an overall record of 4-6.
The Wildcats will be hosting the Baconton Charter Blazers that evening for the team’s season opener. The Wildcats defeated the Blazers last season 44-21 and will be looking forward to squaring up against the team once more in hopes of solidifying another victory.
The Raiders will have a break in the action that same weekend, returning to Harvey Simpson Field on September 11 to battle the Southwest Georgia Academy Warriors.
After these games are completed, the real action starts with each team moving into region competition. Americus-Sumter opens conference play on September 11, hosting the Thomas County Central Yellowjackets before hitting the road to face another familiar foe, the Albany Indians on their home turf on September 18.
The Raiders open up conference play on September 18 against the Terrell Academy Eagles in Americus before heading to Thomasville on September 25 to battle the Brookwood Warriors.
Schley County opens region play on September 11, facing the Patriots in Greenville before returning to Ellaville the next Friday to take on the Taylor county Vikings.