Before he made his game-winning catch in the end zone with 19 seconds left Friday night, Westover receiver Jackie Childs made this one-handed grab earlier in the game to account for the Patriots’ only other TD. (Chris Usrey/Special to The Herald)
AMERICUS — The voice of Americus-Sumter’s P.A. announcer broke the silence.
It echoed across Finklea-Robinson Field on Friday night, letting the magnitude of the moment sink in.
“Touchdown, Patriots,” he spoke matter-of-factly over the P.A. system. “Holy crap.”
Westover drove the length of the field on Americus’ tough-as-nails defense in the final two minutes and then scored the go-ahead touchdown with 19-seconds left when senior receiver Jackie Childs caught a 34-yard pass from QB T.J. Cromer on a 4th-and-long, giving the Patriots a 16-14 victory.
Childs, draped by an Americus defender, seemed to float in the air as he made the catch, erasing the Panthers’ lead and deflating their hopes for a region title.
It was a catch that changed the season for Americus.
Entering the game, the Panthers were two wins away from their first region title in a decade. Americus came into Friday night with just one loss in Region 1-AAAA, and wins against Westover and region-leading Cairo would have give the Panthers the title.
But the catch took it all away, dropping the Panthers to 2-2 in the region behind Cairo (4-0), Monroe (3-1) and Westover (3-1).
“Obviously, the region championship is a goal, but our focus has been to try to be prepared when we get into the playoffs and to be playing our best,” Americus interim coach Chris Wade said. “That’s what we have to do, prepare every week with the big picture in mind. And that’s the state playoffs.”
Americus had chances to put the game away in the closing minutes.
A diving catch on 3rd-and-18 by receiver D.J. Harris gave the Panthers a 1st-and-10 in Westover territory with 3:00 left, leaving Americus a first down or two from ending the game.
But the Panthers just couldn’t close the door.
One Americus runner stepped out of bounds on a short gain to stop the clock, and when Panthers running back Wesley Fields, who rushed for 146 yards and a TD, hurdled a defender and broke free for a 30-yard run that would have put Americus inside the red zone, it was called back with a holding penalty.
The Panthers had more than 100 yards in penalties in the game, and more than half of those came on defensive offsides or false starts.
“Those aren’t judgment calls. You either do it or you don’t,” Wade said. “That was my job to have them prepared and disciplined, and I take full responsibility for that. The last play should have never even occurred.”
Friday’s game still had its bright spots for the Panthers.
Junior Deondre Holmes had an interception and fumble recovery in the second half, and defensive lineman Leroy Henderson picked up a fumble in the first quarter that set up Americus’ opening touchdown. The Panthers had several long rushing plays in the opening two quarters, including a 40-yard scamper by Michael Russell and a 53-yard score by Fields.
Wade was also able to find a silver lining in the loss.
“This one hurt. But it’s not all bad, the hurt,” Wade said. “They aren’t satisfied with it. It’s bothering them that they lost, and that’s one positive thing, that they will want to bounce back and not feel like this again.”
SO ... WHY DIDN’T LEE ONSIDE KICK?: Lee County head coach Dean Fabrizio knew what had just happened. Despite a 41-35 loss to Thomas County Central Friday in Region 1-AAAAA play, despite giving up 200 yards rushing to TCC junior quarterback Adam Choice and despite allowing more than 400 yards, the Trojans had just proven something.
They had played the No. 6 team in Class AAAAA to the wire, outscoring the Yellow Jackets, 21-13, in the second half, and nearly proved a slew of doubters state-wide wrong.
“We feel like we’ve got a good football team,” Fabrizio said. “TCC is a great football team. They just made more plays than we did (Friday).”
There are a lot more folks now who will get the feeling Lee County (6-1, 1-1 Region 1-AAAAA) is pretty darn good.
Outside of a pile of false-start penalties (six) and a lost fumble one play after the Trojans had blocked a punt in the third quarter, Lee did nearly everything it could to pull off a shocker. Lee County pulled within a score with 2:15 left and three timeouts, but Fabrizio elected to kick off to Choice and the Yellow Jackets, despite the fact that the Trojans had forced just two punts all night.
“We tried to pin them back deep,” Fabrizio explained when asked what his reasoning was behind kicking off, rather than trying the onside kick. “We’d blocked one punt already, and we knew they would be expecting an onside kick. We thought we could hold them and try to block the punt or get the ball back with about two minutes left.”
It didn’t work out after TCC picked up a first down to run the clock out, but a point had been made. The Trojans threw for 324 yards (Stephen Collier-250, Matt Mears-74) against one of the best defenses in the region and proved they belong in the discussion for the region’s top two seeds.
Friday’s battle also featured one junior quarterback, TCC’s Choice, that everyone knew about and another, Lee County’s Collier, who everyone will soon know just as well. Choice ran for 200 yards (2 TDs) and threw for 80 (1 TD), while Collier threw for 250 (2 TDs) and ran for 59 yards (2 TDs). Next year’s showdown in Thomas County may feature two of the best senior quarterbacks in the state
MONROE BETTER WITH BROWN: Everything keeps changing at Monroe, where Daryl Brown has added a new dimension as the top running back for the Nadas. But how about the latest change — Kevin Williams the kicker?
That’s right, the kicker.
Williams is the most dangerous kick-returner in Southwest Georgia. Just ask the players at Dougherty, who watched Williams return two kickoffs for touchdowns worth 162 yards in Monroe’s 56-26 win on Friday night.
Williams has retuned four kicks for touchdowns this season. He is also the best receiver in this part of the state. And now, he’s kicking extra points for Monroe.
“We missed the first two extra points against Dougherty,” said Monroe offensive coordinator Billy Glanton. “So we used him for extra points, and he was 4-for-4 on kicks.’’
Brown rushed for 133 yards and scored twice, and the Tornadoes scored 21 points on Williams’ two touchdowns and a 75-yard pick-6 from Jawaski Randle, which meant Dynamite Dozen quarterback Charles Stafford didn’t have need to throw that much. Stafford threw only 10 passes all night, but he completed nine of them for 159 yards and two touchdowns.
All of that came in the first half. Stafford played one series in the third quarter, but he didn’t put the ball in the air and then he sat down for the rest of the game.
Still, Monroe’s running game looks better every week. Brown, who came back from an ankle injury and played in the second half against Albany and the entire game against Americus-Sumter, has rushed for 287 yards in less than three games since his return.
“Now that we have Daryl and we’re running the ball, we can do both,” Monroe coach Charles Truitt said. “Teams can’t just roll up on us defensively and overload against our passing game. I’ve never seen a 10th grader who could run our zone offense like he (Brown) does. He has great vision and he can hit that small hole so fast.’’
Monroe got the bad news late Friday night that Westover had beaten Americus-Sumter, 16-14, with 19 seconds left. Had Americus won the game, it would have all but taken Westover out of the hunt for the Region 1-AAAA title, and the title would have come down to the showdown between Cairo and Monroe on Nov. 2.
Westover can win the title if Americus beats Cairo next week. If Cairo beats Americus then Westover will have to cheer for Monroe to beat Cairo, because that would force a three-way tie for first place between Westover, Monroe and Cairo.
“We heard that Westover won, and now we have to hope Cairo beats Americus, and we take care of Cairo,” Truitt said. “We just have to take care of business and beat Crisp next week and get ready for the showdown with Cairo. We always felt we had to win any way.’’
If there is a three-way tie at the top, it will come down to points deciding the winner. Last year, Worth, Monroe and Crisp County all tied for third in the region and Monroe and Worth advanced to the playoffs based on points allowed in the games between the three teams.
Under that format, Westover could be in trouble in a three-way tie, because the Patriots allowed 14 points in a 17-14 win against Monroe, and allowed 31 points in a 31-7 loss to Cairo.
But none of that will matter if Americus-Sumter beats Cairo next week. If that happens all Westover has to do is win its final games against Dougherty, Worth and Albany to win its first region title in history.
Dougherty has had a tough season with a group of young kids who are trying to turn the program around under first-year coach Corey Joyner. The Trojans haven’t won a game, but Truitt said there’s a big difference at Dougherty.
“You can see they are much improved, and I see them getting better week to week,’’ Truitt said. “Corey Joyner is doing a good job, and I know once he has them for a couple of years I feel they will be real good again.’’
DEERFIELD’S DEFENSE SIMPLY DOMINANT: Deerfield-Windsor’s defense not only recorded six sacks in its showdown against Westfield on Friday night, the Knights had 12 plays for either no gain or a loss in the 28-7 win. Three of those plays came inside the DWS 10-yard line. Nick Michas, Patrick Forrestal, tailback Kh’Ron McClain, who played a couple of downs at linebacker and had a 13-yard sack, and Dallas Margeson, who plays quarterback and safety, all had plays for losses in the game.
Matthew Fox, a junior, tied a DWS school record for sacks in a game with four, and racked up 40 negative yards in sacks.
“He has a chance to break the school record for sacks in a season (13) and career sacks,’’ DWS coach Allen Lowe said. “He finds a way to get in there.’’
DWS will play its second unbeaten team in the region next week when it hosts Pinewood, which shocked Southland on Friday night to all but eliminate the Raiders from the region race. Southland lost to Westfield, 38-0, last week before falling to Pinewood, 15-14, when Pinewood decided to go for two points after scoring to close to 14-13, with 30 seconds left in the game.
EAGLES STILL CHASING REGION TITLE: Mitchell County kept its Region 1-A title hopes alive with a 40-0 win against Stewart on Friday night. The Eagles dominated the game in the first half and coach Larry Cornelius played his junior varsity players in the second half.
Jaquan Williams scored twice, and K.J. Pollard, Anfernee Williams, Tremel Emanuel and Jacory Belvin all rushed for a TD apiece. Mitchell County’s defense gave up just one first down in the first half.
The Eagles are now 3-1 in the region race after winning their third game in a row Friday. They lost to Miller County, 21-20, in the region opener, and need some help to win the region title, because Miller County is 4-0 and Seminole County is 3-0.
The Eagles finish the season at home. They play Calhoun County at home, have a bye week, and then end the season at home against defending region champ Seminole County.
Mitchell has to hope that Seminole beats Miller on Nov. 2, and then the Eagles would have to beat Seminole on the final day of the regular season on Nov. 9 to force a three-way tie for the region title.
Herald High School Writer Mike Phillips and staff sports writer Matt Stewart contributed to this report