Two Panther teams favored to win tonight

Two Panther teams are out to take the state title: One, a two-time state titlist plays round 2 on its way to a possible third state title; the other, a brash powerhouse, hopes to capture the state title tonight to create the same kind of tradtion.

Americus Panthers, state defending champions in GHSA Class AA (40-1) enters the fray with two state titles, facing the Irwin County Indians, decided underdogs with a 7-4-0 season record.

On the other hand, Tiftarea Academy's Panthers, a strong defensive team, will face Brentwood War Eagles, a club boasting the leading passer among quarterbacks in GISA Class AA.

Americus vs Irwin County

Americus enters the second round of the GHSA playoffs as number one with a 96.16 on the Georgia Varsity Sports Vent Power Rating. On the other hand, the Indians rate a distant 18 with 76.92 points. To say the Indians are an underdog is an understatement. Even so, the team faces the Panthers with moxie.

Irwin County's Jute Wilson quotes Ric Flair in the Tifton Gazette: "'To be the man, you got to beat the man,' and Americus is definitely the man."

The Indians expect to use a power running attack with Clayton Sirmans and Larry Reed moving from the defensive side to strengthen the offense. Leading rusher Billy Jordan leads the team with 1,006 yards on 109 carries. Chris Lewis follows with 779 yards on 70 carries. A freshman, Patrick Florence, shows strong potential by piling on 398 yards on 61 carries. Furthermore, he has assisted Bryant with play-fakes, setting up big plays against Southeast Bulloch.

Americus head coach Erik Soliday faces a familiar foe in Irwin County. Since many of the Indians have played together since sophomores, they have developed into a tough, physical club. In addition, the team plays a wing-T, which echoes the Panther's last opponent, Callaway.

Weakining the Americus defense in the loss of senior tackle Warren Gooden with a broken ankle and senior end Tim Moore with an injured foot. Soliday hopes the offense will score enough points to make things easier on the defense.

"We feel pretty comfortable offensively, having success running and throwing (the ball)," he told the Americus Times-Recorder.

Success means a trio of stellar O-men in the guise of senior runningback Michael Terry, junior quarterback Cedric Johnson, and junior wide receiver Jermaine Allen. With this line-up, Americus has averaged 43.4 points per game.

"The further you get in the playoffs, the better teams you're playing who can better match-up. We try to take advantage of what we can," Soliday added. "Taking advantage" is what Americus is known for. Things shouldn't change much tonight.

Game starts at 7:30 p.m. with the winner entering the third round and taking on the victor in the Union Grove/Washington-Wilkes contest. Tiftarea vs. Brentwood

Though Tiftarea head football coach Roger Womack assumes the helm for the first time this year, he is a familiar force in Chula. Womack has been an assistant coach with the Panthers for some time. Womack and defensive coordinator Mayo Tucker, a former Blue Devil coach under legendary Gene Brodie, played as Blue Devil teammates under Coach Tommy Guillibeau. The duo are proving to be a winning combo.

Developing a strong defensive team has been one of TA's major successes this year. Last week, the team overcame a 12-0 halftime deficit against Memorial Day. Clint Karsten took three interceptions and the school battled back to finalize the score at a winning 18-12. The defense boasts two leading tacklers in Class AA: Chad Mock with 177 total tackles and Blake Phillips with 8 sacks and 151 tackles on the year.

Offensively, expect to see action from Taylor Hammond, who leads the team in rushing with 1,545 yards and 24 touchdowns. Luke Jordan follows with 1,140 yards and nine TDs.

Brentwood defeated Piedmont last week 56-13, and expects to play a strong offensive game. Freshman Daniel Harris leads the Brentwood squad in rushing with Jared Jackson following at second. Jaime Dickey is leading passer among Class AA quarterbacks with 1,000 yards airborne. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is more than 7 to 1.

Since TA beat the War Eagles earlier this year, Georgia Varsity Sports Vent Picks favor the Panthers. Additionally, TA tops the GaVSV Power Ratings at number one with a 93.6 rating, while Brentwood lags at number 4 with a 77.10. Either way it goes, expect a fierce rumble in Chula tonight. Game starts at 7:30 p.m.

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