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Panthers open season at Samson

A faded blue mat in the entrance of the Georgiana High School main office says &uot;Panther Pride.&uot;

That pride is no more evident than in the words and attitudes of the football players.

The Panthers are on a mission this year to do what so many teams in the school’s past have failed to do.

&uot;We hope to bring something to Georgiana High School that it’s never had – a state championship,&uot; said senior guard and defensive tackle Stewart Crittendon.

The Panthers are coming off a 6-5 season in which they made a first-round exit at the hands of Gordo.

But that is in the past now, and this year they are single-minded in their goal.

The road to that goal starts Friday night when they travel to take on Samson High School.

The Tigers are coming off a losing season during which they lost to Georgiana 26-12.

However, the Panthers are not taking this game lightly.

&uot;They have a good running back in Anthony Peacock,&uot; said Coach Keith York. &uot;We went to watch him play in their fall jamboree and he’s a pretty quick running back with lots of speed. As a team, they’re much improved from last season.&uot;

One factor that could work against the Panthers is that they did not play in a jamboree this year.

The Tigers, on the other hand, have the benefit of playing a game that doesn’t count in the standings.

&uot;One plus for them is they had a pre-season game to work the kinks out and we’re heading into our first contest,&uot; said York. &uot;I couldn’t get anybody to commit (to a jamboree game), so we held out, which is alright, too.&uot;

Real-game experience or not, the players are confident the game this Friday will be the beginning of a promising season.

&uot;I think we’re fine,&uot; said senior guard and linebacker Caleb Harten. &uot;We’ve been practicing all week trying to keep on pace. We’re trying not to get overconfident.&uot;

Success for the Panthers will start up front. York praised his offensive line as the best in his five seasons as coach at Georgiana.

&uot;Before, there were two or three strong ones, but this year, the overall unit can line up and take on any other unit,&uot; said Harten.

The line will be blocking for Douglas Stackhouse, a junior running back whom the team will rely heavily on.

&uot;I just follow the linemen and I know they’ll block really well,&uot; said Stackhouse. &uot;I’m just looking to have a good game, so I’m not really nervous.&uot;

Stackhouse has set lofty goals for himself this season. He would like to gain 1,000 yards on the ground and rush for six touchdowns in one game.

&uot;We’ll block and we’ve got boys behind us that are going to run it and take care of everything else,&uot; said Crittendon.

The lofty goals for the Panthers were set before a single player suited up for practice.

According to York, the conditioning of the players in the off-season has them poised to make a big improvement on last year.

&uot;From December all through April, through the spring game and the summer, the strength of the team improved tremendously,&uot; said York. &uot;This is a very strong team collectively, and I hope that helps. I’m looking for us to be able to take people on and to be more physical. We play in what has to be the toughest region in 2A.&uot;

The Panthers play Leroy, Red Level and Washington County, all teams that are ranked in the top ten in the 2A pre-season polls. Region foe Southern Choctaw received honorable mention pre-season honors.

The makeup of the Panthers also looks totally different from last year.

The team has a wealth of seniors and juniors that are willing to step up and take a leadership role.

&uot;Some games last season, we had not showed up to play and just joked around getting ready before games,&uot; said Harten. &uot;Now during practice, instead of just sitting on the sidelines and watching, guys jump up and get in there.&uot;

The game plan for the Panthers will be to prepare for the Tigers to run sweeps often on offense and look for talented linebacker Dustin Wise on defense.

&uot;They have a good player (Wise) that will get better, and he will hit you,&uot; said Stackhouse. &uot;But he won’t get past our offensive line.&uot;

Even if not given much of a chance to win a region championship, let alone a state championship, the Panthers have a swagger that could very well carry them deep into the post-season.

&uot;A lot of people look for us to go out there and play every game not expecting to win,&uot; said Crittendon. &uot;But this is a different Georgiana High School football team this year.&uot;