AMERICUS -- Americus-Sumter first-year coach Michael Pollack, who has already had his appendix taken out, isn't worried about getting an ulcer.
"They've already taken my appendix out. I don't know what else they can take out,'' Pollack said on Saturday after his team completed its third close win of the season over the last three weeks to jump out to a 3-0 start in the Region 1-AAA race. "We've had three nail biters. We give them their moneys worth. We give them a full 48 minutes. It's gut-wrenching. But it feels great to win them.''
It's been that way for three weeks as Americus-Sumter has come back twice and had to hang on at the end in all three victories against Worth (20-12), Monroe (14-6) and again Friday night in a thrilling 31-28 win against Crisp County.
"We've been able to hang on in all of them,'' said Pollack, whose team had to come back from 6-0 in the fourth quarter against Monroe before stopping the Tornadoes inside the 10 in the final seconds, and had to come back from a 20-17 hole in the second half against Crisp.
Americus-Sumter was led by Kendrick Jones, who rushed for 186 yards and scored all three of the Panthers' offensive touchdowns. His third TD run of the night lifted Americus to a 24-17 lead and then Claude Deriso came up with the play of the game, picking off a pass and returning it 50 yards for a touchdown with about six minutes left to give the Panthers a 31-20 lead. Deriso now has picked off three passes in his last two games.
Crisp drove for a TD to make it close at 31-28, and then Cougars were driving in the final minutes when Americus-Sumter held Crisp on downs at midfield with 30 seconds left in the game.
"Our kids just find a way to win,'' Pollack said. "I'm very proud of our resiliency and our ability not to give up. Our kids believe if they keep working hard that good things will happen, and they have.''
Americus has clinched a playoff spot and -- with three games left -- the Panthers could win the region. They're tied with state-ranked Cairo at 3-0 and meet the Syrupmakers in the final game of the season in Americus. They play Dougherty at Hugh Mills on Friday night and a victory would guarantee the Panthers no worse than a second-place finish in the region.
"It's been exciting,'' Pollack said. "All the fans are talking about how we take it down to the wire. They are really excited in Americus about football. It's a good ride right now. We just have to keep it going.''
NO BLAME GAME AT LEE:
It's all in the family at Lee County, where the Trojans will try to find a way to bounce back from a 42-7 loss to No. 1 ranked Northside, Warner Robins on Friday.
Quarterback Justin Walker might have already taken the first step. Walker had a rough night, running for his life against a relentless pass rush, but still managed to throw for 244 yards despite being hurried all game and several dropped passes.
Neither the dropped passes, nor the big pass, rush dimmed Walker's look into the future.
"We have to come back from (this loss), and we will. We just have to get focused and move on,'' said Walker, who took the loss like a man and didn't blame anyone. "I'm not going to throw my offensive line under the bus. That's my family.''
TORNADOES TANKING IN REGION PLAY:
Monroe hasn't exactly gotten a kick out of the Region 1-AAA race, where the Tornadoes are still looking for their first win. They're 0-3 after a tough, 21-18, loss to Worth on Friday where the difference in the game came from Aaron Sinclair, Worth's new kicker. Sinclair's a freshman who had never played in a football game until last week. In two games (both wins) Sinclair is 7-for-7 in PATs, and those three extra point kicks against Monroe proved to be the difference in the game on Friday.
Monroe had some kicking problems early in the season, but seemed to have found a cure when Courtney Massey, a linebacker, took over the PATs in the third game of the season. But Massey missed his first PAT against Worth and when the two teams started swapping TDs (both scored three times), Monroe was forced to go for two points.
"We go down and score and go up 6-0 and then miss the extra point,'' Monroe coach Charles Truitt said. "Then they score and it's 7-6. We come back and make it 14-12 and go for two to tie it at 14-14. The pass was there but we didn't get it.''
Monroe scored in the fourth quarter to close to 21-18 and went for a two-point conversion again, but the pass was failed and the Tornadoes suffered their second straight close defeat.
"Our kicking game has been better,'' Truitt said. "I'm not blaming (Massey) for missing that kick. We moved the football, but we just didn't score when we were in the red zone. We have just been making too many mistakes.
"We've got to re-establish our running game. We can't have our quarterback
throwing the ball 40 times a game. We haven't been doing a good job running the ball, and I believe you have to run the ball to win.''
Truitt knows exactly what the 0-3 start means. Monroe has an off week and then plays its final three region games against Crisp, Dougherty and Westover to conclude the season.
"We have to win all three of them to make the playoffs,'' Truitt said. "We still control our destiny, but we've got to win all of them. And all three of those teams will be fighting for a playoff spot.''
Truitt said he will take advantage of the bye week to get some players healthy and to get Monroe back on track.
"I promise you that we will get better,'' he said. "It will be a big disappointment if we're not one of those four playoff teams.''
A COINCIDENTAL ADVANTAGE?:
Since Seminole had to forfeit its game against Mitchell County last week, Eagles head coach Dondrial Pinkins took the opportunity to urge his guys in Camilla to watch Miller County take on Pelham two Friday's ago to better prepare for the Pirates
A bunch of them did, and it paid off in the form of a 32-12 victory.
"A good bit of them (were able to watch Miller play Pelham last week). I would say at least 20-25 guys were there," Eagles head coach Dondrial Pinkins said. "A lot of the guys (had the mindset like they) had the upper hand going into practice Monday. They kind of came and brought some ideas to the table of what they should do coming into this game, so I think we had the right approach."
Players knew it was an important region game, and knew they couldn't relax if they wanted to put themselves in position to win.
"(With) two weeks off, we (knew we) had to get prepared," said quarterback Jesse Atkins, who ran for 123 yards and two touchdowns and threw for another Friday. "It slowed us down a little bit (at first), but overall, it worked out for the better."
Herald staff writers Daniel Kay and Mike Phillips contributed to this report