The Panthers defense bottled up the high-powered Cook offense Friday night, but was unable to come away with the win, falling 12-7. (Chris Whitaker/Americus Times-Recorder)
AMERICUS - Americus-Sumter was stuffed twice inside the 20, and Zack Folsom passed for 242 yards to help Cook escape with a 12-7 win against the Panthers Friday night.
The Panthers scored on their first series of the game, but were kept out of the end zone the rest of the way.
Bryce Benton was 14 of 32 passing for 181 yards, but the offense couldn't punch it in when it mattered most in the second half.
"We come out the first drive and look like gang busters," said coach Michael Pollock. "Then, there were a few drives where we went on down the field and bogged down in the red zone, and a couple of times inside the 10. We've got to come away with points there. But they left everything on the field, and effort was not our fault tonight. We're getting better and better, and I couldn't be more proud of our kids."
Benton hit Xavier Willis on a 39-yard pass on Americus-Sumter's first play of the game, and after a roughing the passer penalty, Jarod Lewis scored from two yards out two plays later for a 7-0 lead.
Cook failed to score after reaching the Panther 10 late in the first quarter after Travin Henry was brought down for no gain out of the Wildcat formation. But after forcing the Panthers to punt on the next possession, the Hornets drove 60 yards in 11 plays and scored on a Henry run around the right side of the line from nine yards out.
The extra point was missed, leaving the Panthers ahead 7-6 at the half.
Both teams committed 10 penalties in the game, but they hurt Americus-Sumter the most. A pair of personal fouls on Cook's opening possession of the second half aided the Hornets in taking a 12-7 lead.
The second personal foul set up Cook at the 12 when Folsom found Henry for a 12-yard touchdown. Americus-Sumter's Tyran Goober intercepted the two-point try.
Jarod Lewis returned the ensuing kickoff to the Cook 41, and a personal foul set the Panthers up at the Hornet 26.
The Panthers moved from the shotgun into the I-formation, and Jonathan Thomas carried three times down to the 6, setting up a first down. But on fourth-and-goal, Thomas was dropped for a 3-yard loss.
Momentum shifted hands on the possession, and Folsom hit three-consecutive passes, including a 50-yard completion to Stacy Sailor. Cook reached the Panther 5 before the drive stalled.
Americus-Sumter had one more chance, taking over at its own 26 with 10:56 remaining. The Panthers ran 11 runs in a row between Lewis and Thomas, taking them down to the Cook 15. A fumble and a pair of negative plays resulted in a fourth down at the 17 when Benton was sacked by Saylor and Ross Pickle.
The Panthers finished with 233 total yards, led by Willis, who had six catches for 101 yards. The Hornets totaled 299 yards with Henry accounting for 109 total yards and both touchdowns.
Pollock said earlier in the week that this game could earn the Panthers some respect, and even though they lost, he believes critics will take notice.
"It says a lot about where our program has come from," said Pollock. "They embarrassed us last year, and we had opportunities to win the football game. That tells us we're going in the right direction.
"I think everybody kind of raised an eyebrow. They are seeing we are on the rebound. We're going to start earning (respect) a little bit more. We've got a good game Friday night to show it against Troup County."