Westover’s Jaelon Benjamin (7) tries to elude the tackle of Americus-Sumter’s David Tyson (7) Thursday night at Hugh Mills Stadium. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)
ALBANY — It took half a quarter for Westover to get on the scoreboard. When they did, you had a feeling the game was over.
Especially considering the way its defense was playing in the first half.
The Patriots used two first-half touchdown passes from quarterback Ta’Keevian Harris to build a lead, then its defense held off a late Americus-Sumter rally in the second half, escaping with a 21-8 victory Thursday night at Hugh Mills Stadium.
Westover needed a late interception from Kendrick Hurley to end the Panthers’ rally. Americus-Sumter moved to the Patriots’ 16-yard line before Hurley ended the threat.
“As a team, we’ve got to have a killer instinct,” Westover coach Octavia Jones said. “We’re not putting teams away. That’s something we’ve definitely got to work on.”
The Patriots maintained their grip on first-place in the region standings. Westover (5-2, 4-0 Region 1-AAAAA) moved a step closer to its first region title in school history. The Patriots need to win two more games to clinch the region and a home playoff game in the first round which begins on Nov. 15.
Westover’s final three opponents - Worth County, Dougherty and Albany — have a combined 4-15 record.
“I told the guys before the game that we have the region championship in our hands … we’ve just got to guard it against our last three opponents,” Jones said. “Those teams are going to be trying to take it away. We can’t get caught looking ahead. We’ve got to play four complete quarters of championship-style football every week.”
The loss sent Americus-Sumter (3-4, 2-2) tumbling into the middle of the region race and fighting for a playoff position. The Panthers lost their second staight and travel to meet second-place Cairo next Friday night.
About the only negative for the Patriots came midway through the final period when an errant snap sailed over punter Tanner Stumpe’s head. Americus-Sumter took over at the 14 and three plays later, Jaylon Harris scored on a 6-yard run. Following the two-point conversion run, Americus trimmed the deficit to 21-8.
That was the one thing Jones could complain about after the game.
“I felt good about the way our defense played (Thursday),” he said. “We’ve always said that if we don’t let them score, then they can’t win. With the exception of the botched snap, I felt pretty good about the way we played.”
Harris caught junior Cleatus Hopkins streaking down the visitor sideline for the game’s first score. Harris lofted the pass and Hopkins hauled in the 31-yard reception with 5:37 left in the first quarter.
The Patriots weren’t finished in the first half. Jysanti Richardson halted an Americus-Sumter scoring drive, intercepting a pass deep in Westover territory. The Patriots turned the turnover into points when Harris tossed a 10-yard strike to Michael Green. After Stumpe’s extra point, Westover led 14-0 with 8:59 left in the second quarter.
Shannon Saunders provided the clincher to open the fourth quarter, dashing into the endzone on a 15-yard sprint to make it 21-0 with 11:53 left.