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PREP FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Americus-Sumter planned ahead before big win vs. Worth

SYLVESTER -- One of the biggest plays in Americus-Sumter's incredible, 36-29, comeback win against Worth County was an onside kick in the third quarter.

It was no accident. It was planned -- well in advance.

"We put in the onside kick a couple of weeks ago,'' Americus-Sumter coach Michael Pollock said after the game. "And we've been working real hard on it, every Wednesday.''

Then Pollack told his kids at halftime they would probably be using the onside kick.

Americus trailed 22-0 until Kadarius Bryant returned a fumble 18 yards on the final play of the half as Worth coughed up the ball while trying to run out the clock. Bryant's momentum-lifting play made it a 22-7 game at the half.

"We said at halftime if we score on the first drive we're going to use it,'' Pollock said. "We worked on it every week. A game like this, it can really turn a game around.''

It did. The Panthers scored on the first drive of the second half and then after recovering the onside kick, the Panthers scored again and added a two-point conversion pass. Just-like-that, it was 22-22. It may be the only 22-point run in Georgia this season in which a team scored 22 points while the opponent did not run a single play from scrimmage.

"We're a very young football team,'' said Pollock, who lost a ton of players from his Region 1-AAA runnerup team from a year ago. "I can't say enough about the way we regained our composure. A lot of teams would have quit. They stuck together.''

A big difference this season at Americus-Sumter is the arrival of quarterback Bryce Benton, whose family moved from Atlanta. Benton, a junior, had a career game on Friday, completing 29 of 50 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns. He has thrown for 1,101 yards in five games, but Benton had no idea that he had a 300-yard game against Worth.

"What? 311? I didn't know that,'' said Benton right after the game. "I don't know what my best game was (before this). Maybe 180, 185 yards. I owe it to my line for blocking for me and my receivers for making the catches.''

Benton, a lefty, may cause problems in the region next spring, too. He's a quality pitcher, and might just turn the Panthers into a contender for the Region 1-AAA title on the diamond, too.

After Friday night, Americus-Sumter (3-2, 1-0) looks like one of the teams to beat in the region race.

"We wanted to send a message to the region,'' Willis said after the big win. "The message is that we're back.''

Pollock was especially proud of his rebuilt offensive line, which gave Benton time to throw in the second half when Benton completed 17 of 25 passes for 187 yards and all three of his TD passes. All three TD passes were caught by Xavier Willis, who had 10 receptions for 109 yards.

Americus had the biggest offensive line in Southwest Georgia last year, but lost three huge starters from that front. Kentrell Mercer, a three-year starter at tackle, and Josh House, a two-year starter at center, returned to anchor this year's offensive line.

In the first half Benton was sacked once and lost 11 yards when he slipped in the backfield, but he wasn't touched in the second half, and rushed for 27 yards on five carries in the second half.

"Our offensive line did a great job,'' Pollock said. "Worth has (Dantavis Jones), and he is one of the best (defensive players) in the region. For us to keep him (from sacking Benton)...They did a great job.''

FEELING FOR YOUR OPPONENT?: Worth County coach Scottie Ward wants to win every game, and he wants to win Region 1-AAA games even more. But Ward has a little sympathy for his next opponent, Westover's Patriots, who will play host to Worth at Hugh Mills Stadium on Thursday.

Ward doesn't understand why Westover, which played Dougherty on Saturday night, had Saturday-Thursday games back-to-back on the schedule.

"That gives them only four days to prepare for the game,'' Ward said. "I don't understand how that happens, that they have to play on a Saturday and then play on a Thursday.''

A SEA OF PINK: It's Breast Cancer Awareness month in Georgia and last week the GHSA had all of its football officials wear pink whistles as a show of support.

Worth County went above and beyond to make its point.

It was pink night at Milt Miller Stadium on Friday night, where just about everyone on the Worth County side of the stadium was wearing pink, including band members, cheerleaders and even coaches, who wore their coaches' shirts and slacks but wore pink wrist bands.

MONROE IS SEEING RED: Monroe outplayed Cairo on the stat sheet in the first-half Friday, but still trailed 12-7 at the break and ended up losing 33-7. The Tornadoes drove up and down the field, but squandered two redzone opportunities in the first two quarters. After recovering a fumbled punt, Monroe was penalized for a false start and gave up a sack before an incomplete fourth-down pass killed the drive.

An 11-play drive before halftime put Monroe inside the Cairo 20 again, but a hold led to a first-and-long and ended in another incomplete fourth-down pass at the Syrupmakers' 11. The Tornadoes were hit with 10 penalties on the night.

"That's killing us right now," head coach Charles Truitt said. "We're giving yards back."

Tornadoes quarterback Charles Stafford was 7-for-12 passing in the first half for 121 yards and a touchdown pass, but went 6-for-14 in the second half with only 58 yards and an interception returned for a Cairo defensive score.

Despite trailing in every statistical category in the first half aside from the score, Cairo quarterback Steven Bench didn't feel like his team was being outplayed on the field.

"Not necessarily," he said. "We had some mistakes. We go into halftime, we just had to remember we're out here to have fun and play as hard as we can. We had to come out and show them who the best team is."

After an uncharacteristic 1-2 start to the season, the 'Makers feel like their starting to roll after back-to-back wins.

"We've got to win a region championship," said Bench, who moved from Bainbridge High to Cairo High in the offseason.