Power outage can’t dampen Panther spirit as ASHS earns playoff spot with 17-14 defeat of Columbus
Published 3:55 pm Monday, November 7, 2016
By MICHAEL MURRAY
AMERICUS – The Americus High School Panthers took their home field at Alton Brown Stadium in Americus on Nov. 4 to battle the Columbus High School Blue Devils for a chance to advance to the state playoffs.
After a fierce competition, the ASHS crew earned a 17-14 victory in the contest to improve the team’s overall record to 5-5 on the 2016 season and move on to round one of the playoffs. The team’s Region 1-AAAA record holds steady at 4-3.
ASHS will now travel to Thomson, Ga. On Nov. 11 to take on the as-yet undefeated Thomson High School Bulldogs in round one of the playoffs.
Hundreds of fans crowded into the stands to support the team, many of whom were wearing #25 jerseys in remembrance of Panther team member, Jamorrian Johnson, who tragically passed away recently.
True to their form, the Panthers got off to a blazing start in the match-up. The powerful ASHS defense held the Blue Devils to three and out and only three yards on the visitors’ opening drive with the aid of hard stops from Chase Jones and Christian Mable.
The Blue Devils proceeded to punt the ball to the ASHS 23 yard-line. ASHS running back, Eric Brown, added a quick two yards before quarterback, AJ Payne, honed in on Braelin Williams for a 17-yard completion. On the next play, from their opponents’ 42 yard-line, Brown added another rush to bring the ball to midfield before taking off on the ensuing play to find a hole in the visitors’ defensive line and show the Blue Devils his heels as he scurried into the end zone on a 50-yard trek.
ASHS place kicker, Carlos Hernandez, deftly nailed the point-after kick, giving the home team a 7-0 edge three and a half minutes into the action.
The teams traded possession four times over the remaining 8:22, the first drive of which was highlighted by a leaping interception by Brown to halt Columbus’ progress at the Panthers’ 32.
On their return drive, Payne and Kobe Lewis added plenty of yardage on the ground but, eventually, ASHS was forced to punt from their own 41 yard-line. The drive comprised eight plays.
Once again, the ASHS defense held their opponents to three and out, retaking the ball just before the end of the initial frame.
The Blue Devils tightened up their defense on the ensuing drive to return the favor, forcing a punt by Williams from the Blue Devils’ 38.
Columbus then embarked on a 14-play drive, pressed forward primarily by the efforts of backs, Donnie Dawson and Ty Lucas.
The drive was slowed by some jarring tackles and a sack by Mable, but the visitors continued to inch their way towards the goal. From the Panthers’ three yard-line, Lucas managed to find a chink in ASHS’ armor, bursting through the ASHS stronghold for the visitors’ first touchdown of the game. The Blue Devils followed with a successful PAT kick, tying the score at 7-7, where it would remain for the next four minutes until the intermission.
When play resumed, the Panthers received the kick and, from the 23 yard-line, Payne found Jacquez Bartley open. Bartley snagged the pass and blasted off on a nearly 50-yard jaunt to the Columbus 13 to add 64 total yards to the Panthers’ progress. Payne followed with a keeper to the seven, but the Blue Devils’ defense stingily refused to give up any more ground. From the eight yard-line, ASHS brought out kicker, Angel Chavez to attempt a 25-yard field goal. Chavez split the uprights, putting the hosts up 10-7 with 8:43 left in the third quarter.
The Blue Devils answered with an aggressive drive, but were slowed significantly by the efforts of Zyrieck Allen and Mable. On fourth and ten, from the Columbus 30, Allen broke up a pass attempt to return the ball to the hosts.
ASHS took off on their return drive, opening the action with an exciting return by Lewis, who dodged several tackle attempts. The Panthers got 11 plays under their belts before a power outage, apparently caused by a stray balloon, put the game on pause for several minutes with 2:21 left in the third stanza.
When the lights came back on, the Panthers turned the ball over to the visitors, who hung onto it until the end of the frame, eventually punting to their own 43 yard-line.
With the ball back in the Panthers’ possession, Brown once again showed off his speed on the first play of the drive, breaking through the line and weaving through a sea of opponents for a 43-yard touchdown run.
Hernandez’s kick, once again, hit its mark, putting the hosts up 17-7 at the 11:28 mark in the final stanza.
The Blue Devils struck again on their ensuing drive when Dawson evaded the Panthers’ linemen to make a long touchdown run from midfield. A successful extra-point kick brought the Blue Devils within comeback range at 17-14 with 7:23 remaining in the game.
The teams traded possession four more times as the clock ticked down and Columbus made their final stand with minutes left.
After pressing dangerously close to the Panthers’ red zone, the visitors’ hopes of a late comeback were dashed when ASHS lineman, Keunta Holley, sacked Columbus quarterback, Caleb Bailey, to return the ball to ASHS’ hands.
At the final buzzer, the home fans cheered the local victory before a touching candlelight ceremony was performed at the field’s 50 yard-line in memorial of J. Johnson. Members of both teams participated in the ceremony; a fitting tribute to a young man that many considered to be a great player and friend.