Despite posting winning season during his first two years as coach of Americus-Sumter, Michael Pollock said he shouldered much of the blame for Friday's first-round playoff loss to Mary Persons, 54-20. (Americus Times-Recorder)
AMERICUS -- Many thought it could not get any worse for the Panthers after a 42-0 loss to Cairo to end the regular season.
But, oh, it did.
The Panthers muffed two punts in the first half and committed six turnovers, which turned into 33 points for Mary Persons, as Americus-Sumter's season came to an end with a 54-20 defeat.
It was the most points the Panthers had allowed since consolidation, and you have to go back to 1958 to find the last time Americus High allowed that many points. Cairo beat the Panthers 54-0.
On this night, it was turnovers, penalties and a discombobulated offense that aided the Bulldogs in almost all of their scores.
"I can't explain what happened (Friday night) because we had guys that did things on the football field they haven't done before," Panthers coach Michael Pollock said. "The two botched-punt situations, we've not had that all year. We've played solid special teams all year. I think our kids after that got a little shell-shocked."
The Panthers (6-5) struck first, however. After Bryce Benton hit Xavier Willis on a short out route, Willis was finally brought down at the Bulldog 9. Freshman Wesley Fields finished off the drive on the next play to give Americus-Sumter a 7-0 lead with 10:24 remaining in the first quarter.
But it went bad from there for the Panthers.
Two muffed punts - one that was recovered in the end zone - and another fumble on a quarterback-running back exchange found the Panthers down 20-7 in a span of 4:24.
The Bulldogs' first touchdown came after converting a fourth-and-2 at the 5. Kenny Foster scored from two yards out to tie the game at 7-7.
Tra Taylor recovered the next muff in the end zone, and Ricardo Lyons' 5-yard touchdown made it 20-7.
Boos had already began from the crowd in the second quarter, and the Panthers didn't help themselves after recovering two Bulldog fumbles, but converting neither.
The Panthers had one more scoring chance before the half ended, but mistakes and misalignments that led to them using all their timeouts proved costly.
They had a first-and-goal at the 1 with about 40 seconds remaining. After an incomplete pass left the team with 14 seconds, the Panthers' Jonathan Thomas took the snap, but was stopped short of the goal line as the half expired.
"Right there at the end of the first half we had a chance to get right back in it," Pollock said. "I made a bonehead decision. We had 50 seconds to go, and we ran two plays in 50 seconds from the dang (one) yard line. That's just pitiful. That's pitiful on my part and absolutely inexcusable. I know better, and I can't believe I did that. I had a chance to get us back in the game, and we just did not execute and have better clock management. I've never done that in my career. That was not a good coaching decision at all."
Mary Persons dropped back to pass one time in the first half, and that resulted in a Dontavious Bell sack. But after the teams swapped punts to open the second half, Jordan Banks went back to the air and hit D'Vante Penamon in stride for a 57-yard touchdown and a 28-7 lead.
The Bulldogs used two personal fouls - one that was questionable on an errant pass - by the Panthers in scoring on their next possession. Lyons ran in from 18 yards and pushed the lead to 34-7.
But Americus-Sumter then answered with its longest play of the season on a 84-yard pass from Benton to Thomas, who made the catch between a pair of defenders, then made three others miss before being tackled at the 9. Fields scored again on the next play to cut the deficit to 34-13.
Mary Persons sophomore Abreken Ralls intercepted his eighth pass of the year and returned it 50 yards for his third pick-six of the season, and Willie Brown also returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown.
Sandwiched in between the two was a 11-yard touchdown from Nick Davis. After those three scores, the Bulldogs led 54-13 with 9:05 remaining in the game.
Jarod Lewis added a 3-yard score for Americus-Sumter to complete the scoring.
Benton was 9 of 32 passing for 248 yards and three interceptions. Thomas had two catches for 114 yards, and Willis had two catches for 112 yards.
The Panthers were held to 28 rushing yards on 25 attempts as Benton was sacked three times.
The Bulldogs rushed for 233 yards, led by Corey Head's 76 on 10 attempts. Lyons had 66 yards, and Davis had 55. Banks was 2 of 4 passing for 64 yards.
On the bright side of this ugly loss, the Panthers did finish with back-to-back winning seasons in Pollock's first two years.