Following an incident at practice, Americus-Sumter head football coach Michael Pollock was not allowed to coach the team last week against Macon County and will miss his second straight game tonight against Albany High in both teams’ Region 1-AAAA opener, and it’s unclear when he may be back. (Americus Times-Recorder/Special to The Herald)
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WHO: Herald No. 5 Americus-Sumter (2-1) at Albany High (1-2).
WHAT: Region 1-AAAA opener for both teams.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today.
WHERE: Hugh Mills Stadium.
LIVE SCORING UPDATES: twitter.com/AlbHeraldsports.
ALBANY — Albany High arrives with the bigger boys tonight to play its first Region 1-AAAA game, but the much-anticipated debut of the Indians, who have moved up from Class AA to Class AAAA this season, comes with more than just a big step forward.
The Indians’ opponent, Herald No. 5 Americus-Sumter, is without its coach, Michael Pollock, who will miss his second straight game as the leader of the sidelines. A source told The Herald that Pollock isn’t being allowed to coach for the time being following an incident at practice before last week’s game against Macon County — and no one is certain if Pollock will return to coach the Panthers again this year as the matter gets sorted out.
And for Albany coach Felton Williams, that turmoil surrounding the team is more than enough to make them an even more dangerous opening opponent.
“The thing about playing a team like that is that they will be playing with a lot of emotion,’’ Albany High coach Felton Williams said at practice Wednesday. “They don’t have their coach for this game, and they will be playing with a never-give-up mentality. Teams like that bring so much emotion to the game from start to finish. They come in with a chip on their shoulder.’’
The Panthers (2-1) didn’t have Pollock for last week’s game against Macon County, and responded with an impressive 34-18 win with a big turnaround after losing to Dooly, 21-12, the previous week. Macon County (for what it’s worth) beat Dooly, 21-20, to open the season.
“The main thing we’re trying to do is to keep the kids focused on football,’’ said Americus offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Chris Wade, who is the acting head coach in Pollock’s absence. “We haven’t talked about it (the situation) with them. We don’t get into it. We’re trying to be business-like and go about business and get ready for (today’s) game.’’
It’s a huge game for both teams.
Americus-Sumter has finished second in the region the past two years behind state-ranked Cairo and feels like it can make a run at the title this season.
“We always look at the region like it’s a whole new season,’’ Wade said. “Every region game is big because the region is always so competitive, and it’s always nice to get off to a 1-0 start in the region. It gives you momentum.’’
A win tonight might mean even more to Albany High.
“It’s our first region game and our first game in AAAA, and they were the region runner-up last year, so if we beat them it will open the door for us to have a shot at the playoffs,” said Albany High receiver and defensive back Rantiez Williams, who is coming off a monster game.
Williams had 10 receptions, including two for touchdowns and also had two interceptions, including one for a TD in Albany’s 34-18 win against Mitchell County last week. The Indians had five interceptions, including a 90-yard TD return by sophomore Malik Dungy.
Albany’s secondary is coming off a big game but faces a huge test tonight. Bryce Benton, who threw for more than 2,000 yards last year and has thrown for 500 yards in three games as a senior, leads Americus. Several schools are looking at Benton, including Harvard and Princeton of the Ivy League. Benton is coming off his best game of the year. He completed 14 of 20 for 220 yards and two TDs last week.
“He can really hurt you,’’ Felton Williams said of Benton. “We’re going to have to get pressure on him. He is one of those guys who can have a real big game. He hasn’t had that breakout game yet this year, and I hope it doesn’t come against us.’’
It could be a showcase of quarterbacks. Albany High’s Emmanul Byrd threw for more than 1,900 yards and 21 touchdowns last year, but he has been plagued by dropped balls this season. The Indians dropped 18 passes in their first two games, including two two-point conversion passes that cost them in a 20-18 loss to Greenville on opening night.
Byrd has completed 52 percent of his passes for 425 yards and six touchdowns, and Williams has caught five of those and has more than 300 yards in receptions. But Byrd’s numbers could go up.
“I hope they go up drastically,’’ Felton Williams said. “We didn’t drop any balls last week, and that was the difference. We’re twice as good now as we were at the beginning of the year, and that’s because our concentration is better and we’re not dropping balls.’’
But are they good enough to make the Class AAAA playoffs?
“This is a big game because it will tell us where we stand in this region, and tell us where we stand against AAAA teams,’’ said Albany defensive back Andrico Carter, who had eight interceptions last year and picked off a pass last week. “They were the region runner-up last year, so if we beat them it will be making a statement.’’
There are now eight teams in the region. Four will go to the playoffs and four will stay home.
“We need to play well. This is the region. This one counts,’’ Felton Williams said. “A win for us would mean a lot for our program. This could determine who gets in the playoffs. There’s a lot of weight in this game, and (Americus-Sumter not having its coach) just adds more to it.’’