ASHS keeps region streak intact with 55-41 win in Hardaway slugfest
Published 5:03 pm Saturday, October 21, 2017
By MICHEL MURRAY
COLUMBUS – The Americus-Sumter High School Panthers hit the road for Columbus on Oct. 19 to defend their undefeated Region 1-AAAA against the Hardaway Hawks.
In the whirlwind slugfest that saw both teams scoring often, the Panthers emerged victorious with a 55-41 win. With one more “W” under their belts, the Panthers’ overall record jumps to 6-2 while their region winning streak remains intact at 5-0.
ASHS’ impressive region record leaves the Panthers at the top of the pile in Region 1-AAAA, with Northside High School following closely with a 4-1 region mark.
The Panthers wasted no time getting the scoring started after receiving the initial kickoff. Running back, Kobe Lewis returned the opening kick 36 yards to the ASHS 38 and, on the first play of the Panthers’ opening drive, quarterback, Kierston Harvey, connected with Braelin Williams for a 62-yard touchdown pass.
ASHS place kicker, Carlos Hernandez, then hit the first of many successful PAT kicks to give the visitors a 7-0 edge 18 seconds into the action.
On the first play of Hardaway’s return, the Panthers forced a fumble, which ASHS’ Tyler Tyson retrieved to give the visitors another chance to score. A pair of rushes by Lewis and a completion to wideout, Sage Finch, quickly put the Panthers in scoring position.
From the 13, Harvey set his sights on the end zone and fired off a pass that was intercepted by an Eagle defender. Before the Hardaway rusher could get out of the end zone, however, he was tackled, netting the Panthers another two points for the safety and another possession.
Lewis, once again, returned the kickoff, this time around making it to the Hardaway 45. Another pair of Lewis rushes and Finch’s second long reception of the game put the Panthers within striking distance once more.
From the nine-yard line, Lewis showed off his talent once more, plowing through a sea of Hardaway defenders to put the Panthers up 15-0 with 7:16 remaining in the first quarter. Hernandez, once again, nailed the PAT to add another point to the Panther lead.
The Panthers nearly took possession again four plays later, after holding the hosts to three and out, but a penalty for hitting the Hardaway center on the punt kept the Hawks’ drive alive.
With their renewed hopes, the Hawks took off on a 58-yard drive that ended with star running back, Marco Lee, breaking the plane to put the Hawks on the board.
Not to be outdone, the Panthers responded with a five-play drive, aided by a Hardaway penalty, that saw AJ Payne and Mikal Douglas get in on the action with a reception and a long rush, respectively. From the five yard-line, a pair of Lewis runs were more than enough to complete the Panthers’ journey, leaving the visitors with a 23-7 lead that they would cling to through the end of the first stanza.
After the Hawks pressed their way deep into Panther territory early in the second frame, the ASHS defense stubbornly refused to give up any additional ground, eventually tackling Lee for a loss to leave the hosts with no choice but to go for a field goal from the 11.
The kick was blocked by a Panther defender to set up the Panthers’ fourth touchdown drive of the game.
From the ASHS 18, Lewis, once again, showed off his speed, leaving a slew of Hardaway defenders to watch helplessly as the number-five on the back of his jersey became smaller and smaller on his 82-yard touchdown rush. For the first time in the game, Hernandez’s PAT kick sailed wide, holding the Panthers to a 29-7 lead with 5:21 remaining in the half.
The teams weren’t finished duking it out yet, however, as the Hawks would go on to score another touchdown at the 1:09 mark.
55 seconds later, the Panthers struck again when, from the 44 –yard line, Harvey connected with Williams who, aided by blocking from Montrellis Wilson, broke several tackle attempts and took off for a 56-yard touchdown. This time around, Hernandez’s PAT sailed true, leaving the Panthers up 36-14 with 14 seconds left in the half.
The Eagles had one more play in them, however, and the final moments of the first half saw Hardaway’s Courtland Dixon scoop up the kickoff and make a mad dash for the end zone for the game’s third touchdown in just under one minute and 10 seconds. The Panthers took a 36-21 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Upon returning from the break, the Panthers utilized the defensive talents Malcolm Mercer, Christian Mable, and Shaquille Colbert to help slow the Hardaway drive and forced a turnover on downs at their own 41.
A rush by Lewis and a pair of catches by Payne, coupled with a pass interference penalty, allowed the Panthers to move the ball to Hardaway’s four-yard line. From there Lewis, once again, muscled his way into the end zone. ASHS attempted a two-point conversion with 5:31 left in the third frame, but the play was stopped, leaving the Panthers with a 21-point lead, 42-21.
Hardaway responded four plays later when four Lee rushes landed the hosts in the end zone to narrow the gap to 42-27.
On ASHS’ ensuing drive, the Hawks forced the Panthers’ first and only punt of the game before taking off on yet another productive drive. Douglas added another tackle to his stats to slow the Hawks’ progress but a series of rushes from Lee and Ja’ron Early pushed the ball to the Panther two.
From there, Lee broke through the Panther wall for his fifth touchdown of the game.
The Panthers shut down the Hawks’ two-point conversion attempt, leaving the score 42-33 early in the final quarter.
The teams traded possession two more times before the Panthers saw the chance to score again after ASHS defender, Jakhari White batted down what could have been a touchdown pass for the home team.
With Payne now handling quarterback duties for the Panthers, Lewis pushed the ball to midfield. Payne was then able to undertake six consecutive keepers and punch through the Hardaway line for another touchdown with 2:25 remaining on the clock. Once again, Hernandez did what he does best; splitting the uprights to give the Panthers a 49-33 advantage.
To add insurance to the lead, ASHS’ Trevian Thomas pulled off a pick-six less than 30 seconds later to expand the Panther edge to 55-33.
Dixon took the return kickoff for a long trip all the way to the Panther seven moments later and the scoreboard was changed one final time with 1:52 left in the game as the Hawks added one final touchdown.
At the final buzzer, the Panthers celebrated the 55-41 win.
Harvey completed seven passes in the game, with Williams leading the way for the receivers with 95 yards covered on two catches. Finch added another 64 yards on two receptions and Payne pulled down three passes for 44 more yards through the air.
Lewis set the bar high for the team’s rushers, covering 146 yards on the ground on 17 carries. Payne carried nine times for 42 yards and Douglas tacked on 34 yards on a pair of totes.
In total, the Panthers amassed 432 all-purpose yards.
Lewis broke the plane four times for the Panthers while Williams added a pair of touchdowns. Payne tacked on one six-pointer for the ASHS cause.
The Panthers will put their undefeated Region 1-AAAA record on the line once more on Oct. 28 when the team returns to Columbus to battle the Columbus High School Blue Devils.