QBs take center stage in Americus-Sumter showdown

In the 16th and final installment of the rivalry that is Americus and Sumter County, fans will get a chance to see two of the better quarterbacks in the state when Donald Minter and Cedric Johnson square off on Friday night.

Minter has made a tremendous leap in his second season as the Rams starting quarterback, leading his team to a 5-4 record so far that included a heart-breaking loss to Randolph-Clay on the last play of the game that ultimately knocked Sumter out of the playoff race.

He has completed 60 of 138 passes this year for 1321 yards and 12 touchdowns with 9 interceptions. With good size at 6'2 and 190 pounds and excellent mobility, Minter also has been a major threat on the ground and is one of his team's leading rushers.

"Donald has improved a lot from last year," said Sumter County head coach Charles Truitt. "He started slowly this season, but he came on strong and got better as the season went on. We have been real pleased with his play this season."

The junior quarterback has also caught the attention of the Americus coaching staff, who saw him last year in a 46-0 Panther victory and have observed his improved play this season.

"Minter has done a fine job for them this season," said Americus head coach Erik Soliday. "He has really matured, especially in his decision making. He is a very good athlete, and is a threat to not only pass but run as well. He has some weapons and they have had pretty good year offensively. He definitely seems to have what it takes to be a good quarterback."

As successful as Minter has been this season, he has been overshadowed by the play of Johnson, who is well on his way to continue the impressive run of all-star quarterbacks for the Panthers.

In his second season as the Panther starting signal-caller, the junior has completed 108 of 194 passes for 2489 yards and 34 touchdowns to go against only 5 interceptions. He is only 5 touchdown passes away from breaking the state single season record of 38, which ironically is held by his older brother Robert, who recently signed a letter of intent to play for Texas Tech next year (he is currently at Reedley Junior College in California).

More importantly, Johnson has his Panthers at 9-1 and on the verge of another state title run. Americus won it all in 2000 and 2001, and last year they made it to the semifinals but lost to eventual champ Buford in the Georgia Dome. Johnson would like nothing better to lead his team to another state title in their final season before the merger with Sumter County.

"Cedric has had a great year for us," said Soliday. "He has really improved, especially in his decision making. He doesn't force things like he has in the past, and he has really improved on his pre-snap reads. He has really matured."

Truitt and his staff know all about Johnson and the threat he is for the Panthers.

"Cedric is a great quarterback; I definitely put him right up there in the same class with all those other guys," said Truitt, who has seen former Panther greats like Fabian Walker and Robert Johnson up close during his days as defensive coordinator for the Panthers. "He always puts his offense in good position to make plays. He checks off real well, and he has improved each week."

With Americus already assured the #2 spot in Region 1-AA and a first round game at home against Greenville, and Sumter County mathematically eliminated from the playoff race, one might think that neither team has much to play for. Not so, say the respective coaches.

"We don't want to go into the playoffs on a losing note," said Soliday. "We don't want to get too emotioal; we just need to stay on an even keel and execute and try to win the game. You have to be wary of injuries, but you can't worry about them too much because that's when it will happen."

For Truitt and his team, this will be Sumter's final chance to knock off their backyard rival as the Rams suit up for the final time.

"It would be a huge win for our team, especially the seniors who have worked so hard," said Truitt. "It would mean a lot to them to beat Americus, but for that to happen there are going to have to be a lot of things we have to do right in order for us to win."

The final installment of this 16 year rivalry begins Friday at 7:30 at Finklea-Robinson Field

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