ASHS Panthers fall to Trojans, set sights on region competition

Published 3:15 pm Tuesday, September 12, 2017


LEESBURG – The Americus-Sumter High School Panthers hit the road on Sept. 8 to battle the Lee County High School squad on the Trojans’ newly-opened facility in Leesburg.
Coming into the match-up, the Class AAAA Panthers knew that they were in for an uphill battle, as the Trojans are currently ranked in the top slot in Region 1-AAAAAA.
The Panthers held their own in the first half of the match-up, but let the game get away from them in the third and fourth quarters to suffer a 49-14 defeat.
With the loss, the Panthers drop to 1-2 on the season.
The Trojans added a trio of touchdowns in the first frame, with Lee County fullback, Nikko Cruz, breaking the plane for all three of the scores.
With the Trojans up 21-0 and six minutes left in the initial frame, ASHS’ Kobe Lewis picked up a kickoff at the Panthers’ three yard-line and took off for midfield. Lewis nearly got wrapped up by several Trojan defenders, but managed to break free and leave his pursuers in the dust as he took off for a 97-yard touchdown run.
On the Panthers’ two-point conversion attempt, ASHS quarterback, Kierston Harvey, zeroed in on wideout, AJ Payne, to narrow the gap to 21-8.
Cruz added another touchdown for the Trojans late in the first quarter and ASHS answered in the second with a 72-yard drive, highlighted by a 65-yard reception by Braelin Williams, who scrambled to the Trojans’ seven yard-line before he was stopped. From there, Lewis took a handoff to complete the journey and leave the score at 28-14 after a failed two-point conversion attempt.
The Panthers threatened again late in the first half when Harvey connected with Williams once more to push the ball to their opponents’ 11, but a flag was called on the play and the ball was returned to the line of scrimmage.
When the clock wound down, the teams retired to the locker room for the halftime break.
The Trojans received the ball first in the second half, but a determined Panther defense held them to four downs.
Payne added another reception to his tally on the first play of the Panthers’ return drive and Lewis rushed to just short of the first down marker. On fourth and one, the Trojans blitzed and Harvey was sacked for a significant loss.
The Trojans took advantage of the turnover on downs to score two plays later and added a PAT to pull ahead 35-14 early in the third stanza.
ASHS’ Sage Finch pulled down a reception midway through the third quarter, though the Trojans’ sizable defenders would not let the visitors gain any additional ground.
An apparent miscommunication left the Panthers in the danger zone when what was originally deemed to be a roughing the kicker flag turned out to be a simple “running into the kicker” call. The yardage added by the penalty left the Panthers just short of a first down and the ball was returned to the Trojans at the ASHS 20.
From there, the hosts wasted no time adding another touchdown to their tally.
Finch received the Trojans’ return kickoff at the ASHS 13 and, after a short run by Lewis, Williams came down with another pass to give the Panthers their first first down of the second half.
Williams could not gain enough ground on his next reception, on second and nine, to give the Panthers’ answering drive further life and the ASHS crew was forced to punt from their own 35.
The visitors slowed the Trojans’ progress as the hosts attempted to march down the field with a series of hard tackles by Trevian Thomas, Christian Mable, and Lewis, as well as a sack for a 15-yard loss executed by Malcolm Mercer.
Aided by a holding penalty, the Panthers’ defense held the Trojans to only four downs, retaking possession of the ball in their own 20.
Lewis added another short rush to his stats as the Panthers looked to make their comeback, but a Lee County interception dashed the visitors’ hopes with nine minutes left in the game.
Lee delivered the coup de grace one and a half minutes later when Shaundarious Kimbrough rushed for a first down and Cruz racked up even more yardage, scoring from the Panther eight yard-line for the final score of the game.
On the return kickoff, Williams gave one last spark of excitement to the visiting fans with a return to the 14 yard-line, breaking several tackle attempts along the way.
With the game out of reach, ASHS head coach, Erik Soliday, sent in the team’s reserves to gain some valuable experience.
With sophomore quarterback, Kanova Willoughby, taking on the ball handling duties, the Panthers were able to add a couple more yards on a series of rushes by junior, Christopher Lundy.
A final pass attempt into the end zone fell short and the ball was returned to the Trojans, who ate up the remainder of the clock time, eventually taking the significant win.
The Panthers will get the chance to pick on a team their own size on Sept. 15 when they travel to Westover High School in Albany to face the Patriots in their 2017 Region 1-AAAA opener.
The ASHS squad will return to Finklea-Robinson Field in Americus on Sept. 22 to put their skills to the test against Northside High, of Columbus, in another region tilt.