AMERICUS -- During second block Friday at school, Americus-Sumter senior Kiwi Jones wondered into the locker room and saw a list of the Panthers' team goals scribbled on the team's whiteboard.
Under it, he added his own touch: "Return a kickoff to the house."
Jones' words proved prophetic after he took the second-half kickoff 95 yards for a score, leading Americus-Sumter to a much-needed 20-12 win against Worth County in the Region 1-AAA opener for both.
On a night when neither team could hold onto the football -- there were eight turnovers between the two teams -- Jones and Panthers' senior quarterback Thomas Haugabook made the plays when it counted to lift Americus (2-4, 1-0 Region 1-AAA) after losing back-to-back games late against Troup County and Houston County.
"It was a miracle that we pulled it out," Panthers' head coach Michael Pollock said after his team committed five turnovers, including four fumbles. "But I'm going to tell you something. These kids are doing miracles. They worked so hard."
Haugabook scored twice on runs of 18 and 16 yards, the second of which put Americus ahead 20-6 with 4:17 to play and all but sealed the region-opening win.
"Boy, he's a warrior," Pollock said of Haugabook, who played all night at defensive back and quarterback after junior quarterback Malik Thomas was held out due to a sprained ankle.
Haugabook ran for 49 yards and threw for another 59 yards in the win. He had no answer for the abundance of turnovers on the night, but was thankful for Jones' big return and the stout Panthers' defense.
"That set the tone," Haugabook said of Jones' kickoff return to open the second half. "That got us going and our fans going. I'd just like to thank my defense for standing up when we did turn it over."
Haugabook's 18-yard score on a quarterback option keeper was the only score of the first half. Jones, who didn't touch the ball on offense in the first half, found a seam on the kickoff return and was off to the races. After a missed point after, Americus led 13-0 before Worth County (2-3, 0-1 Region 1-AAA) finally cashed in on a drive.
Kareem McDaniel scored on a 7-yard end around to cut the lead to 13-6 in the third quarter. The Rams actually outgained Americus in total yards on the night (197-196) but McDaniel's score was the only offensive output of the night.
"It was crazy," Rams' coach Scotty Ward said of Worth's three drive-killing turnovers. "They gave us chances, we gave them chances.
They'd give us one and we'd turn around and give it right back. (Americus was) 1-3, but you could tell watching film they were better than that."
Worth's Ellis Anderson, who ran for 55 of his 61 yards in the second half, scooped up one of the Panthers' four fumbles with 2:24 to play and returned it 29 yards for a score to shave the Americus lead to 20-12.
The Panthers recovered the ensuing onside kick, but Worth got one last shot and drove into Americus territory before completing a 14-yard pass on 4th-and-15, falling two inches short of a first down with less than 20 seconds to play.
"Coming in, you knew somebody was going to be 0-1 (in region play)," Americus senior defensive tackle Jonathan Battle said. "We were just hoping and praying it wasn't us."
Jones led the Panthers with 60 yards rushing, all in the second half. Senior Claude Deriso recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass for the Americus defense.