AMERICUS -- Ten plays, 10 passes, 21 points.
Americus-Sumter opened Friday's first round of the GHSA Class AAA playoffs against Washington County with 10 straight passes and built a 21-10 first-quarter lead en route to a 28-16 win at Alton Shell Stadium.
Malik Thomas passed for 256 yards and three touchdowns as the Panthers won their first playoff game since consolidating the city and county schools in 2004.
"Boy, he played lights out there at the beginning and did exactly what we told him to do," said first-year Panthers coach Michael Pollock. "I know he had a few interceptions, but I tell you what, the kid played his heart out. The whole offense played their heart out, and defensively, we played lights out."
The Panthers (7-4) scored on their first play from scrimmage -- a 71-yard fade from Thomas to Claude Deriso -- and Thomas also had scoring tosses of nine and 67 yards in the half as Americus-Sumter led 21-13 at intermission.
"We moved the ball some, but when we got in the red zone, we didn't score touchdowns. That's the bottom line," WACO coach Joel Ingram said. "The first quarter killed us. When we got a chance to make a comeback, we didn't get anything out of it. They had a great game plan, and they played well.
"We were pressing up too close with our DBs, and they hit us over the top of our heads. They may have saw something on film and got us with it."
The Golden Hawks (7-3-1) did, however, force six turnovers -- including four interceptions -- but only managed to convert them into six points. And while the Panthers were scoring touchdowns, they held the Golden Hawks to three field goals by C.J. Joiner after getting inside the Americus-Sumter 7.
"We've got to score touchdowns," Ingram said. "If we score touchdowns in the red zone, it's a different story."
Joiner connected on field goals twice from 21 yards and once from 24,, bringing the Golden Hawks to within 21-16 midway through the third quarter. They held the Americus-Sumter rushing attack in check all night with the exception of one play.
Kedrick Jones took the handoff and broke several tackles while scoring a 57-yard touchdown in what turned out to be final score by either tea, with 4:10 remaining in the third quarter.
"What an effort," said Pollock, whose team now advances to play No. 2 state-ranked -- and defending Class AAAA champs -- Sandy Creek next week. "You can't say enough about that."
WACO's Savon Washington and Montravious Gladdin both came into the game as 1,000-yard rushers on the season, but they were held to a combined 47 yards on 15 attempts.
The Golden Hawks' only touchdown came on an 89-yard kickoff return to answer the Panthers first score and tie the game at 7-7.
Thomas' favorite target was sophomore Xavier Willis, who made his first start of the season. Willis caught four passes, including the 67-yard touchdown, and finished with 147 yards.
"He's been our highlight film on Thursdays this while year," Pollock said. "He's been our go-to guy on JV all year, and (now) he has come through with us on the varsity level. We felt like it was time to give him a start, give him a chance. He's worked hard all season, and boy, he had a coming-out party. I'm glad I've got him for two more years."
WACO's William Walker passed for 221 yards and rushed for 48, but threw two interceptions in the second half, both of which went to Tyran Goober. One was tipped and another occurred in the end zone in the final minute.
The Panthers held a 401-314 edge in total yards, one of their highest offensive outputs on the season.
Jones rushed for 69 yards, and Thomas had 39 to go with four catches for 46 yards. The Panthers had 242 yards of offense in the first half.
"When we had the lead 21-10, it was time to kind of settle down a little bit," Pollock said. "We didn't want to get conservative by no means, but we started running some clock to try and shorten the game up a little bit. Because we knew they'd have to drive it on us to win, and that would take a lot of time.
"I'm so happy for these kids. I'm so happy for the community. It's good to be playing one more week."
As for the daunting task now facing the Panthers next week in Sandy Creek? Pollock knows his team is up for it.
"They're the No. 2 team in the state, and it will be another challenge for us," the coach said. "They're a fine football team. They're 11-0, and we're just glad to be playing somebody."