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Raiders come from behind to grab 42-38 victory over SGA

By MICHAEL MURRAY
and JACK PEAVY
michael.murray@americustimesrecorder.com

AMERICUS – Following a well-earned break last weekend, the Southland Academy Raiders hit the gridiron on Sept. 11 to do battle against non-region opponents, the Southwest Georgia Academy (SGA) Warriors. In the match, two fourth-quarter interceptions propelled the Raiders to a 42-38 come-from-behind victory over the Warriors, leaving Southland’s squad with a 1-2 record at the game’s conclusion. SGA left the field with a 2-2 record on the season.
The Raiders came into the match after a pair of tough losses to two very talented teams, defending GISA AAA champions, the Westfield Hornets, and the Toombs Christian Academy Crusaders. Despite the team’s tough luck so far this season, Harvey Simpson field in Americus was full of avid Raider football fans who had come out to show their support for the team.
When the action commenced, Jamaal Rice caught the kickoff and ran to the Raiders’ 48, but a flag on the play pushed the ball back to their 18. From there, the Warriors stubbornly refused to give up any ground, forcing the Raiders to punt. Brody Shattles and Josiah Copland each made hard tackles to stall the Warriors’ progress but the Warriors continued to push ever closer to the goal. Around the nine minute mark, they finally broke the plane for the team’s first six-pointer. The Warriors’ PAT attempt sailed wide, holding their early lead to 6-0.
On the return kickoff, Townsend Ray caught the ball and took off to the Raiders’ 35 to begin the Raiders’ second possession of the game. A hard run from Shattles immediately pushed the ball to the 44 and Stephen Turton took off with a carry to the 48 for a first down. A short pass to Parker Weldon put the Raiders in Warrior territory, looking at first down from the 37. A fumble on the next play was jumped on by a warrior defender, returning control of the ball to SGA.
Despite a pair of illegal procedure penalties favoring Southland, the Warriors managed to steadily progress down the field, landing them in the red zone. A keeper into the end zone from Southland’s five added six more points to the Warriors’ lead, but a two-point conversion attempt was stopped by Houston Hawkins to hold their lead to 12-0 with two minutes left in the first quarter.
Weldon received the return kick and the Raiders began their answering drive. After a long pass pulled down by Weldon was called back due to offensive pass interference, the Raiders made up around nine yards with a hard run by Rice. Unfortunately for Raider fans, the run left them with another nine yards to go after the penalty had been assessed and they were forced to punt.
On the Warriors’ return drive, their progress was slowed by a holding penalty and a hard sack by Turton. The Warriors made up more ground on a short pass, but were forced to punt on fourth and 20.
On second and 11, a handoff to Turton and strong blocking from the Raiders allowed the running back to break through the line and show the defenders the back of his jersey for 60 yards, landing in the end zone. The Raiders’ PAT kick fell short, holding them to six and leaving the score at 12-6 with 7:21 left in the half.
Aided by a penalty and hard stops by Stephen Taggart and Shattles, the Raiders forced the Warriors to punt on fourth and 14.
Southland opened their return drive with a pass from Alex Roach to Turton that netted the team around 15 yards. Hard defense from SGA then left the Raiders staring down fourth and one and they went for it, resulting in an eight-yard run by Rice for the first down. From there, SGA held the Raiders to four downs, retaking the ball at their own 28. With six seconds left, SGA’s quarterback threw a long bomb into the end zone that was broken up by Ray and Weldon to hold the Warriors to a six-point lead at the half.
The Southland Academy Band played a touching version of “God Bless America” as a fitting tribute to the lives lost in the 9/11 attacks during the half-time show since the game fell on the 14th anniversary of the event.
Soon the teams returned to the field to continue the battle.
Southland kicked off to the Warriors when play resumed and Morgan Youngdale stopped the return at the 31. SGA made their way into Raider territory on a series of hard runs and soon found themselves with first and goal from the three. The Raiders made a great goal line stand aided by tackles from Copland, Taggart, and Weldon to keep SGA out of the end zone and take possession on downs at their own one yard-line three minutes into the half. SGA then responded in kind, forcing the Raiders to punt from their own three.
From the 20, SGA pushed ahead to the Raiders’ five and scored on the next play, widening the team’s gap to 18-6. SGA went for another two-pointer, only to have the run stopped by Taggart and Youngdale.
The Raiders pressed forward on a series of short runs before Rice broke away for an 83-yard touchdown run, bobbing and weaving through defenders all the way to the roar of screaming fans. The Raiders then lined up for a two-point conversion that saw Roach’s pass find Copland in the end zone to put the Raiders within comeback range at 18-14.
SGA quickly responded with a 42-yard run that put them within striking distance near the Raiders’ 15. A hard run on the next play allowed a Warrior running back to break the plane and add six to the visiting team’s lead. The PAT split the uprights, putting the Warriors up 25-14 with four minutes left in the quarter.
Two plays into Southland’s answering drive, Ray took off for a 47 yard touchdown run to narrow the gap again, but the Raiders’ conversion attempt was halted, leaving the score 25-20 with three minutes left in the third.
45 seconds later, the Warriors’ quarterback launched a long bomb that found an open receiver for a 65 yard touchdown. The team’s PAT sailed wide, holding their lead to 31-20.
A reception and a pair of runs by Rice, coupled with a long run by Ray, pushed the Raiders to the visitors’ two yard-line early the fourth quarter before Turton ran one into the end zone. Rice ran in a two-point conversion to put the Raiders within three at 31-28.
On the second play of the Warriors’ return drive, the quarterback attempted another long bomb that found Rice on the Raiders’ 27. Rice brought it down to give the Raiders possession, but SGA held the Raiders to three and out, forcing a punt and giving the Warriors the ball on the 44. On third and seven, Shattles picked off another SGA pass to return the ball to the Raiders with seven minutes left in the game and Rice proceeded to weave through SGA’s defense on the next play for a 56-yard touchdown, putting the Raiders ahead for the first time in the match. Stephen Barnes then kicked a successful PAT, putting the Warriors out of field goal-comeback range at 35-31 to the cheers of the home team supporters.
A fumbled snap on the Warriors’ return drive gave Taggart the opportunity to take down SGA’s quarterback for a loss of nine yards as he scrambled for the ball. The Warriors pressed ahead, slowed by another sack by Youngdale and leaving the Warriors staring down fourth and one from Southland’s 25. The Warriors went for it, picking up a first down at Southland’s three. With 1:25 left in the SGA broke the plane once more to put them back ahead. The PAT sailed true, leaving the Warriors ahead 38-35 with little time left on the clock.
When Southland received the return kick at the 49, the team pushed ahead slowly as the SGA defenders attempted to repel their advance. On fourth and ten, from the SGA 36, Roach’s pass found its mark with Rice, who, once again, left his opponents in the dust as he took off for the end zone. Fans in the stands erupted into applause as the Raiders retook the lead. Barnes’ PAT split the uprights again with 43 seconds left to play and the Raiders pulled ahead 42-38, where the score would stay until the buzzer sounded.
The Raiders left the match with 357 rushing yards and 105 yards gained through the air for a total of 462. The team’s defenders held SGA to only 433 total yards.
Rice was the leading ground gainer for the Raides with 204 yards on 13 carries. Turton followed with 80 yards on 14 carries and Ray was close behind with 71 yards on three attempts.
Rice pulled down four receptions for 77 yards, while Turton and Weldon each caught one for 15 and 10 yards, respectively.The Raiders kick off region action on Sept. 18, facing the Terrell Academy Eagles in Americus. The Raiders have come out on top in the teams’ last five matches.
The Raiders continue region play on Sept. 25, traveling to Thomasville to take on the Brookwood Warriors.