AMERICUS -- Defense has been Americus-Sumter's calling card this season, and the Panthers proved it again Friday night.
The Panthers made 16 stops for a loss, and safety Martinez Reese stole the show intercepting three passes, returning one 80 yards for a touchdown as Americus-Sumter beat down Dougherty 41-6 on homecoming.
"It's not just good to get a win, but get a big win," said Panthers coach Michael Pollock. "We wanted to shut them down, score a lot of points and get a lot of confidence going and get a lot of kids some playing time."
Besides being flagged 15 times for 110 yards and a 68-yard touchdown pass from Dougherty's Willie Jones to Kendal Hicks in the third quarter, Americus-Sumter had its way in every phase of the game.
The offense made strides in the rushing attack, gaining 184 yards, and quarterback Bryce Benton did most of his damage in the first half. Benton was 6 of 11 for 205 yards and two touchdowns, both to Jonathan Thomas.
The defense forced four turnovers, recorded five sacks, and held the Trojans to 138 total yards, and special teams had Dougherty in bad field position most of the night.
"They have struggled this year a little bit, and we still had to go out there and make the plays," said Pollock. "Even though they have struggled, we did play a very solid game. I'd have to rank it up there as one of the betters games we've had for sure.
"Our defense really came in with a very high goal. The kids talked all week about holding them to zero yards offensively. I'm real proud of the defense. Take away the one quarter against Worth County (allowed 22 points in first quarter), we'd be down to seven points a game. You can win big with that effort."
The Panthers (5-3, 3-1 1-AAA) struck first after Reese returned a punt to the Trojan 29. A pass interference call moved it to the 14, and Benton scored on a keeper to make it 7-0 with 6:14 remaining in the opening quarter.
The Panthers went up 13-0 after marching 74 yards in seven plays. Benton had a pair of completions for 16 and 27 yards, and freshman Wesley Fields capped the drive with a 15-yard run.
Dougherty (1-7, 0-4) had 50 yards in the first half on 22 plays, and its first turnover of the game led to the Panthers' next touchdown.
Penalties held the Panthers back as Reese's interception return to the Trojan 5 was nullified because of a holding penalty. It was the first of two big plays - a Fields apparent touchdown the other - that were called back,
It didn't make a lot of difference, however, as Benton hit Thomas for the first of two touchdowns on a 40-yard catch and run.
After the teams swapped fumbles, the Panthers struck through the air again. Benton threw a deep pass where Thomas made a leaping catch and then slipped through two Trojans on his way to a 79-yard touchdown and a 28-0 halftime lead.
"We felt like if we could make it 28-0, that would be the dagger in the game," said Pollock. "We felt like we had the opportunity to go up top, we wanted to take that chance, and it worked out for us."
Dougherty has struggled this season, and with its back against the wall in the second half, the Trojans pulled a fake punt and were stopped two yards short at their own 13.
Two plays later, another freshman in Brian Stone scored from a yard out for a 34-0 lead.
The Panthers went to sleep on the next possession as Dougherty hit consecutive quick slant passes for eight and 68 yards as the Trojans broke up the shutout with 4:10 remaining in the third quarter.
Dougherty was knocking on the door again early in the fourth quarter when Reese picked off his second pass of the game, this time in the end zone. His third interception came with a little over five minutes remaining as he followed blockers down the left sideline for an 80-yard touchdown.
The Panthers racked up 402 total yards, led by Benton's 218 yards passing and Fields' 81 yards rushing.
Jones led the Trojans with 123 total yards.
"We're not playing good football at Dougherty right now," said Trojans coach Jesse Hicks. "We have a whole bunch of young freshmen and sophomores, and we're taking our lumps right now. That's part of it. We've just got to continue to work and allow our kids to continue to play. That's all we can do right now."
The Panthers have a bye this week. With games remaining at home against Westover and at Cairo, Pollock said barring a miracle, they have clinched a playoff berth.
"There's six teams fighting for a playoff spot," he said. "When you look at it, no matter what comes out of the next couple of weeks, it will come down to the last week. There's a lot of football left to be played. There's going to be two very good football teams left home."