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Macon County’s first-quarter surge dooms Panthers to 48-33 loss to Bulldogs

By MICHAEL MURRAY
and RONALD FORDHAM

MONTEZUMA – On the heels of a tough loss to the Smiths Station Panthers, the AAAA Class Americus-Sumter Panthers traveled to Montezuma on August 28 to compete against Class AA rivals, the Macon County Bulldogs.
After the loss in the the Panthers’ season opener, Americus-Sumter came to the game visibly determined to prove themselves a force to be reckoned with in a more evenly-matched contest.
With this match marking the season opener for the Bulldogs, the Macon County squad hit the gridiron at Adams-Maffett Field eager to prove themselves on the field as well, especially after the Panthers’ 28-23 defeat of the team at the beginning of last season. The Bulldogs have fallen in two of the three matches against Americus-Sumter and seemed ready to even the score in Friday’s tilt. The Bulldogs currently have 19 returning seniors on the team’s roster to lend their experience to the contest while the Panthers bought only 10 senior players to the field.
The Panthers ran into trouble early in the first quarter after a pair of hard runs by by Macon County running back Jared Daniels gained around 20 yards before the  Bulldog quarterback, Kahari Lane, fired off a 25-yard pass that found found its mark in the end zone to open the game’s scoring.
On the Panthers’ return drive, a fumbled punt allowed Macon County to come in and gain a safety, adding another two points to the team’s lead.
Macon County struck again when running back Akeevious McLendon took a handoff for a forty-yard run that landed him beyond goal line, adding another six to the score.
The Bulldogs attempted a two-point conversion, only to have their pass picked off by Americus-Sumter’s Darion Tyson. The Bulldogs held off the Panthers’ ensuing drive, however, as Macon hit the Panthers hard, forcing a punt from the Panthers.
The Bulldogs connected on a 30-yard pass to Trey Brown before a fumbled snap put the team back about ten yards. Not to be held back, Lane then connected on another thirty-yarder to find wide receiver, Keldrick Thomas in the end zone, adding another six to the team’s lead.
An Americus defender then blocked the PAT attempt, holding the team to a 20-point lead.
Macon County held the Panthers to a three-and-out once more, retaking the ball in Panther territory. On the ensuing drive, the Bulldogs plowed their way to the 25 where a handoff to running back Jared Daniels allowed him to barrel through the defensive line for another TD. A two-point conversion to Daniels widened the gap to 28-0 before the first stanza ended.
On the Panthers’ return drive, quarterback, Mekall Yancie ran a 35 yard keeper to put the Panthers in Bulldog territory for the first time in the game. A pair of completions landed the Panthers within the ten and gave running back Eric Brown the chance to take a handoff into the end zone.  A successful PAT by Tony Vargas narrowed the Panthers’ deficit to 28-7 early in the second frame to the excited cheers of the team’s supporters.
On the Bulldogs’ answering drive, a fumble by the Macon County quarterback was promptly picked up by Panther defensive lineman Michael Bridges. A handoff to Brown immediately following allowed him to break the plane from Macon County’s ten, narrowing the gap to 28-15 four minutes into the second quarter. The PAT sailed true, giving the Panthers 14 before they returned it.
The Bulldogs responded with a 20-yard pass to Thomas to bring the ball to the ASHS 40.
Bridges then tackled Macon County’s Trey Mathis for a ten-yard loss before, looking at second and twenty, the Bulldogs went for a long pass that was picked off by a Panther defender. The Panthers took possession at their own 30, but strong defensive play from the Bulldogs held them to one set of downs.
Macon County then threw a 20-yard touchdown pass that was called back on a holding penalty to the jeers of the home crowd. Looking at second and 23, the Bulldogs attempted a handoff to Mathis, who was stopped in his tracks by an expert tackle from Trabian West. Tyson and Jamorrian Johnson broke up an attempted throw to the end zone, to keep the Bulldogs out of the end zone.
With 3:30 left in the half, Tyson picked off a Bulldog pass on the ASHS 28.
Macon County returned the favor immediately with the Bulldogs’ Curt McDonald bringing down a Yancey pass and running it back to the ASHS 20.
A hard tackle by ASHS’ Tyler Clark held the Bulldogs out of the end zone but, on the next play, a 15-yard run by Daniels put the ball, once again, in scoring territory to expand their lead to 34-14.
With just over one minute left, Brown made a 30-yard run to land the Panthers at the halfway mark. The Panthers pushed forward, but couldn’t make up much ground before the buzzer sounded, signaling the end of the half.
The Panthers came back in the beginning of the second half with a fumble return on the kickoff by Braylen Williams, adding six more points to their score ten seconds into the half. Vargas’ kick once again split the uprights, bringing the score to 34-21.
The Bulldogs responded by capping off a 15-yard drive with a 22-yard TD pass to Jadarrius Hicks. McKlendon ran in a two-point conversion to widen the gap to 42-21.
With two minutes left in the third frame, ASHS’ Kobe Lewis made a 15-yard plow through Macon Co. defenders to bring the ball to the Bulldog nine, where the ball would stay until the fourth quarter began. On fourth and goal from their opponents’ nine, Yancie’s pass sailed long. On the return drive, Kobe Lewis picked up Macon County wide receiver, Kyron Smith’s fumble to the delight of a visiting crowd, returning the ball to the Panthers at the nine. The team whittled the distance down to two yards to the goal line, looking at fourth down with 10:30 left in the game before they brought in Tyler Clark to make a hole for Yancie. Yancie leaped across the right side of the defense, across the line to narrow the gap to 42-27.
On the first play of Macon County’s return drive, McLendon broke free for a 76-yard run that didn’t stop until the ball broke the plane. Another successful two-point conversion brought the score to 48-27 at the ten-minute mark.
Three minutes later, a dropped snap by the Panthers was jumped on by a Bulldog defender, giving them possession at their own 33.
The Bulldogs slowly pushed ahead into Panther territory before a dropped snap of their own set them back about 15 yards, to their own 40 when the Panthers forced a punt.
With the Panthers now in possession, a pair of completions to Jacquez Bartley and Daveon Johnson pushed the Panthers to their opponents’ 30. A keeper by Yancie

A Panther running back attempts to hold onto the ball against a pair of Bulldog defenders

A Panther running back attempts to hold onto the ball against a pair of Bulldog defenders

brought them within striking distance at the 25 on first and ten. One more run and a quick completion pushed the team to the 12. At the 2:00 mark, Brown pulled down a pass, bobbing and weaving through defenders to score once more, narrowing the gap to 15 points.
Macon County grabbed the onsides kick near the 50 and ran out the clock for the remainder of the match, taking the 48-33 victory.
The Panthers return to action on Sept. 4, hosting the Shaw Raiders before opening region play against the Thomas County Central Yellowjackets on September 11 in Americus.
The Bulldogs next take the gridiron on Sept. 4 in Kathleen, battling the Veterans High School Warhawks before returning to Montezuma to host the Perry Panthers on Sept. 11. The Bulldogs open region play in Monticello on October 9, facing the Monticello Hurricanes.