ASHS earns region title with 33-9 win over Columbus
Published 10:10 am Saturday, October 28, 2017
By MICHAEL MURRAY
COLUMBUS – The Americus-Sumter High School (ASHS) Panthers secured an exciting gridiron victory on the evening of Oct. 26 in Columbus. Facing the Columbus High School Blue Devils on their home turf, the Panthers earned a 33-9 win to claim the Region 1-AAAA championship title.
This year marks the first time that the Panthers have won the region championship since 2004, when the Sumter County and Americus-City school systems merged.
With the win, ASHS head coach, Erik Soliday (who coached the team to its last region championship in the 2003 season), and the Panthers see their overall record jump to 7-2 while remaining undefeated in region competition after six contests.
Up to this point in the season, the Panthers have consistently delighted fans with their ability to snag an early lead and eagerly hang onto it until the final buzzer. The Panthers certainly didn’t disappoint this time around.
ASHS scored on their first drive of the match-up which followed a rousing 27-yard kickoff return by senior, Kobe Lewis, giving the Panthers great field position right off the bat.
From their opponents’ 32-yard line, the Panthers utilized a series of rushes by Lewis to push the ball to midfield before quarterback, Kierston Harvey, zeroed in on junior receiver, Montrellis Wilson, for a 44-yard completion, landing the ball deep inside Columbus’ red zone. From there, Harvey connected with senior wideout, Braelin Williams, in the end zone to open the scoring three and a half minutes into the action.
Down six points, the Blue Devils attempted to answer, though the Panther defense had different plans. The Columbus offense gained only one yard before a holding penalty and a brutal sack from ASHS’ Christian Mable forced the team to punt from their own 14.
From the 47, the Panthers took off on their second fruitful drive of the game. The campaign began with a reception by Williams to bring the ball to the 25. From that point, Harvey ran a keeper to the 18. A pass interference penalty on the defenders then put the visitors within striking distance. On first and goal from the nine, ASHS’ Mikal Douglas ran the ball to the seven and, on the next play, Harvey found senior receiver, AJ Payne, in the end zone to give the Panthers a 12-point advantage.
ASHS place kicker, Carlos Hernandez, then dutifully split the uprights to add one more point to the Panther tally.
The Panthers held the Blue Devils to four downs on their return and the hosts soon returned the favor, forcing a punt from ASHS with around three minutes remaining in the first.
Columbus pushed the ball from their own 40 all the way to the Panther 10 over 11 plays, but that’s as far as the determined ASHS defense would allow them to come to a touchdown.
On fourth and 10, from the 10, Columbus place kicker, Jackson Fuller, put the Blue Devils on the board with a field goal that hit the cross bar and bounced between the poles.
The first quarter ended with the Panthers up 13-3.
The majority of the second quarter was a defensive battle, with both teams struggling to gain any significant ground. The Panthers offered up a pair of completions to Williams alongside rushes by Lewis to push the ball into Blue Devil territory, but the hosts made sure to halt their progress before they penetrated too deep.
ASHS then held Columbus to three and out on their return to recover possession at their own 27. Following another series of hard rushes by Lewis and a pair by Michael Lundy, the Panthers’ progress was stalled at the eight-yard line.
Two plays into the Blue Devils’ responding drive, the tide changed for the Panthers. With around three minutes left in the half, Columbus running back, Tre Peterson, fumbled and the ball was recovered by ASHS.
The Panther drive began at the five-yard line and the Blue Devils proceeded to make an impressive goal-line stand to keep the visitors out of the end zone.
On their return, a delay of game penalty hurt the Columbus squad, moving the ball to the one-yard line. The Blue Devils eventually pushed the ball further away from the danger zone, but the hard-nosed Panther defense forced a punt from the seven.
With 31 seconds remaining in the half, Lewis returned the long punt, led by great blocking from the Panther defense, 47 yards to break the plane once more for the ASHS crew.
Hernandez’s kick, once again, sailed true to give the visitors a 20-3 edge when the teams hit the locker room for the halftime break.
Upon returning to the field, the Columbus defense set their sights on the goal line. Aided by a pair of fourth-down Panther penalties that helped keep the drive alive, the hosts steadily pressed towards the ASHS red zone. From the 10, Columbus reserve quarterback, Hunter Hemmings, found receiver, Dezi King, in the end zone for Columbus’ first touchdown of the game.
Holding onto a 20-9 advantage, the Panthers looked to widen the gap on their return. Hard runs by Lewis and Douglas, coupled with a completion to Sage Finch, propelled the Panthers all the way to the Columbus 33.
On third and three, from the 33, a Columbus defender picked off Harvey’s pass attempt.
Unwilling to be outshined, the Panthers retook control of the ball three plays later when senior, Jakhari White, intercepted a lateral pass and returned it 25 yards, back to the 37.
With 2:19 remaining in the third frame, Lewis went the rest of the distance for his second touchdown of the game.
This time around, Hernandez’s kick was tipped by a Columbus defender, leaving it short and holding the Panther lead to only 17 points, 26-9.
As the clock wound down in the third frame, the Blue Devils’ progress was slowed by the Panther defense again, including a play in which a pass was batted down by White (nearly resulting in another interception) and a sack by Douglas.
In the opening minutes of the final stanza, the Panthers struck one last time when Lewis completed a 41-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown run. The final scoring drive of the game was, ironically, helped along by a trio of Columbus penalties that added significant yardage to the Panthers’ progress.
With 10:43 remaining in the game, the Panthers tacked on their final extra point kick of the match-up to bring the score to 33-39, where it would remain until the final buzzer.
In the final minutes of the tilt, Soliday called upon several of the Panthers’ reserve players to gain some valuable experience. The ASHS second-string players put up a good fight against the hosts, intercepting one pass in the end zone and keeping the visitors from scoring once again when Darren Davis scooped up a fumble on first and goal from the five.
The Panthers will return to action in Americus on Nov. 3 when the team hosts the Carver Tigers for their final scheduled regular-season test.