Albany’s Rantiez Williams, left, tries to drag down Americus-Sumter star QB Bryce Benton during both teams’ Region 1-AAAA opener Friday. The Panthers won, 43-0. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — Albany High was looking forward to making its debut in Region 1-AAAA.
Of course, the Indians were also planning on having their quarterback, Emmanul Byrd, along for the coming out party.
He didn’t make it.
It showed Friday night in a 43-0 loss to Americus-Sumter.
The Panthers did just about everything right to open the region with a win at Hugh Mills Stadium.
“I could barely watch the game,’’ said Byrd, a four-year starter who suffered an injury last week and was not cleared by doctors to play Friday. “It was heartbreaking.’’
Even with Byrd, it might have been a long night against an Americus-Sumter team that is somehow surviving and thriving despite the turmoil and confusion of losing its head coach, Michael Pollock, who has sat out the last two games as he awaits word on whether he’ll be punished further for an incident at practice last week.
“I think they have been able to use football as an outlet to get their minds off everything,’’ said offensive coordinator Chris Wade, who is Americus’ acting head coach in Pollock’s absence. “When they’re on the football field, all they are thinking about is football.’’
The Panthers, ranked No. 5 in The Herald’s Fab 5 Poll, beat Macon County, 34-18 last week, and jumped out to a 29-0 halftime lead on Albany High (1-3 and 0-1 in the region).
“Sometimes when you face adversity and your back is against the wall, it brings out the best in you,’’ Wade said.
It’s difficult to imagine Americus-Sumter (3-1, 1-0) playing any better.
“We’re just keeping our minds on football and staying focused on the game plan,’’ said Americus Quarterback Bryce Benton, who completed 7 of 12 passes for 86 yards in the first half and finished with 98 yards in the air for the night, including a 14-yard TD pass to Kenneth Jordan that made it a 15-0 game. Benton also rushed for a 1-yard TD to start the rout in the opening minutes of the first quarter, and raced 15 yards for a TD in the third quarter before sitting out the fourth.
“They don’t tell us a whole lot,’’ Benton said of the coaching situation. “Coach Wade told us to just keep our minds on football and all the outside stuff will take care of itself.’’
The Panthers took care of the ball and took advantage of three Albany High fumbles and an interception and controlled the line of scrimmage. Wesley Fields and Jonathan Thomas combined to gain 128 yards on 18 carries, and both scored TDs.
Thomas, who plays everywhere for the Panthers, including defensive back, receiver and running back, gained every yard on a four-play, 31-yard drive that followed a fumble recovery, and he scored on a 2-yard run with 3:14 left in the first quarter to make it a 22-0 game, and Fields scored on a 2-yard run with 6:33 left in the half to up the margin to 29-0.
Thomas gained all of his 45 yards on seven first-half carries, and Fields, who gained 74 yards in the first half, finished with 83 yards on 11 carries before sitting out the fourth quarter. Americus racked up 245 yards of offense in the first half.
“We just stay focused and keep our heads in the game and try not to think about it (the coaching situation),’’ Thomas said. “I think we’re playing harder and playing better. We want to be first in the region.’’
The Panthers have finished second in the region race the past two years behind state-ranked Cairo, but they made a statement on opening night.
“That’s the biggest front we have seen all year,’’ Albany High coach Felton Williams said. “They dominated us up front on both sides of the ball. I knew they would play hard (with their coaching situation), and they did. They played hard from the start to the finish.’’
Williams had to start backup QB Malik Dungee, a 5-foot-9, 150-pound sophomore. Dungee completed 10-of-17 passes for 40 yards and was intercepted once.
“I tip my cap to the young quarterback, Malik,’’ Williams said. “He did everything he could under the circumstances. We just couldn’t get anything going.
“I just felt so bad for Emmanul. I told him, ‘I feel your pain.’ I know it was hard on him. He’s a senior and it’s homecoming and he wanted to play. He felt like he could play (but wasn’t cleared by the doctor to play). He’ll be 100 percent for next week.’’
Americus-Sumter planned all week to face Byrd, a Herald Dynamite Dozen quarterback who completed 84 percent of his passes last year for more than 1,900 yards and 21 TDs.
“When we looked up and he wasn’t in there, I was shocked,’’ Thomas said. “Our defensive plan was to stop him, and then he didn’t play. We’ve got a real good defense.’’
Albany next faces Herald No. 1 Monroe on Friday, while Americus-Sumter travels to Worth County, which beat Dougherty, 35-8, to open its Region 1-AAAA season on Friday.
No one is certain if Pollock will be back with the Panthers next week.
“We’ve pushed that to the side and have stayed focused on football, and that’s what we’re thinking about,’’ Benton said. “We want to win the region.’’