Raiders come up with hard-earned victory over Tiftarea on Senior Night

Published 12:44 pm Monday, October 30, 2023

AMERICUS – After getting thrashed by Valwood 49-0 the week before, the Southland Academy Raiders (SAR) came into their game against Tiftarea Academy (TA) hoping to score a win over the Panthers so that the 12 SAR seniors could go out on a positive note, being that it was Senior Night at Southland Academy. Thanks to solid play by the defense and big plays by the offense, the Raiders were able to come up with a hard-earned 28-22 victory over the Panthers on Senior Night at Harvey Simpson Stadium.

“It was a complete team effort,” SAR Head Coach Rod Murray said. “The players, coaches, they all worked hard to get this team ready. This team is resilient. They wouldn’t give up and we know our region is a tough region so you’ve got to show up every week. It doesn’t really matter what anyone’s record is.”

Coach Murray went on to praise Tiftarea Head Coach Eric Soliday, who was the former head football coach at Americus-Sumter High School (now Sumter County).

“Everyone in this town knows he’s a heck of a football coach. He had his team ready,” Murray said. “We’re so proud of our players, our coaches and our Southland family for coming together. We played well tonight as a team. That’s very important.”

The Panthers won the toss, but deferred till the second half, meaning that the Raiders would get the ball first. However, the SAR offense could not get anything going on its first possession and the Raiders were forced to punt. However, the Raiders would strike first when TA quarterback John Robert Walker’s pass was intercepted and taken to the house by Mac McMichael. The extra point by Cooper Boren was good and the Raiders led 7-0 early in the first quarter.

On the Panthers’ next possession, they were able to move the ball all the way down to the SAR 20-yard line. Then on first and 10 from the SAR 20, Walker found John Jackson in the end zone for a touchdown. TA decided to go for two rather than kick an extra point and they succeeded when Walker found Eli Stevens in the end zone. With 10.2 seconds left in the first quarter, the Panthers led 8-7

Neither team could mount a scoring drive over the next several minutes, as it was a defensive struggle. However, Walker completed a pass to Lane Cole, but the Raiders knocked the ball out of Cole’s hands and recovered the fumble. Then on the very next play, SAR quarterback Banks Simmons threw a 57-yard touchdown pass to Trey Sellers. The Raiders decided to try a two-point conversion and they succeeded when Simmons found Cade Futch in the end zone. With a little less than three minutes before halftime, the Raiders led 15-8.

On the Panthers’ next possession, they were able to move the ball into SAR territory at the Raiders’ 32-yard line. A few plays later, Lane Cole scored a rushing touchdown for the Panthers. The two-point conversion was good, as Walker found Cole in the end zone for the score and at halftime, the Raiders trailed TA 16-15.

The Panthers received the ball to start the second half, but could not get anything going on offense and punted the ball back to the Raiders. On SAR’s first possession of the second half, they were able to move the ball into TA territory. They used the running attack of Mac McMichael and moved the ball down inside the TA 30. A few plays later, running back Trey Sellers was able to move the ball down to the TA 15, where the Raiders had it at third and three. On third down, SAR was not able to gain the necessary yardage, but on fourth and two from the TA 14, McMichael was able to gain the necessary yardage for a first down at the five. Then on first and goal from the 5, Trey Sellers scored a rushing touchdown. The Raiders failed on the two-point try, but were back in front 21-16 with 5:30 left in the third quarter.

Southland Academy running back Trey Sellers goes up to make a catch.
Photo by Shannon Blanchard

On the Panthers’ next possession, the SAR defense was able to force a fourth down and 14 situation when Will Godwin sacked Walker and nearly caused a turnover, as Walker fumbled the football. However, the Panthers recovered the fumble and punted the ball back to the Raiders on fourth down.

On the Raiders’ next possession, they were able to move the ball into TA territory again. Then on first down from the 50, Simmons scrambled to his left and threw a pass to Sellers, who broke through tackles and scampered all the way for a touchdown. Unfortunately for the Raiders, however, the touchdown was nullified due to a holding penalty. The drive eventually stalled and the Raiders were forced to punt.

However, the SAR defense rose up and made a play when Godwin sacked Walker for a 10-yard loss, forcing the Panthers to punt the ball away.

This gave the Raiders another chance to put points on the board or, if nothing else, run some clock. On third and four from the TA 24, McMichael tried to gain the necessary yardage, but could only gain two yards. Then on fourth and two from the TA 22, Simmons was brought down shy of the line to gain. A dead ball personal foul penalty was called against the Panthers, but they still got the ball back on downs.

With a little over three minutes left in the game, it would be up to the SAR defense to keep TA out of the end zone.

The Raiders’ defense came up big on the Panthers’ next possession, as Fisher Britt intercepted Walker’s pass and ran the ball back inside the TA 10-yard line. A couple of plays later, SAR running back Luke Tarrer scored from two yards out. The point after by Cooper Boren was good and the Raiders had a 28-16 lead with 1:52 left in the game. With a two-score lead, all the Raiders needed to do at this point was play solid defense, but TA did not quit and moved the ball down inside the SAR 20-yard line. Then on second down and 10, Walker completed an 18-yard touchdown pass to Lane Cole. The extra point by John Jackson was no good, but the Raiders’ lead was cut to six at 28-22 with 26 seconds left.

The Panthers tried an on-side kick to recover the ball, but the Raiders were able to recover it and went on to defeat TA by the score of 28-22.

The Raiders are now 3-6 overall and are in fourth place in the GIAA Region 3-AAA standings at 1-3. They will finish the regular season this coming Friday, November 3, at Deerfield-Windsor. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.