Panthers playing for more than just the playoff picture

Published 5:10 pm Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Georgiana Panthers’ battle with the Kinston Bulldogs will probably be a shorter affair than most, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be an easy battle for either side—in fact, the exact opposite is true.

The Panthers face a mirror image of themselves in the Bulldogs Friday—a team that has earned its success through its hardnosed approach to smash-mouth football.

For Kinston, passing the ball is merely a suggestion.  The bulk of their success has been found on the ground.

Georgiana head coach Ezell Powell said that its this controlling and physical style of play that will prove the most difficult Friday night.

“They like to grind it out and shorten the ball game, so we know going in that every opportunity that we get to score, we’ve got to take it,” Powell said.

“They do a good job of ball control.  I’ve played them in the past and sometimes they’ll have it for six and seven minutes at a time, just slowly moving the ball down the field.”

The Bulldogs have a penchant for finding themselves in third-and-short or fourth-and-short situations, which is exactly where a run-oriented, physical team wants to be.

Their success on fourth down conversions have proved disheartening to many a defense this fall, and Powell said that the key to keeping the Panthers from falling to the same fate is to stop the bleeding before it can properly start.

“We’ve got to do a great job on first and second downs to try to keep them against the stick, and make them have to throw it to beat us,” Powell said.

“And putting them in third and seven or third and eight, or even third and five would be good.  But you don’t want to end up where all they need is a couple of yards for the first down, because if they’re in fourth and one, they believe they can get it with their offense.”

Friday’s game with the Bulldogs will prove even more difficult than normal, as the Panthers roster is still missing three starters from a costly suspension in the Greenville game two weeks ago.

Regardless, Powell has placed a great deal of faith in his younger players to seal the deal and earn the Panthers’ first playoff bid since 2009.

But a successful season for the Panthers means much more than even a chance for a state title—it could mean the complete revitalization for a program that has seen its share of struggles in the past five years.

“It would be huge for the fan base,” Powell said.

“It would be huge for the kids.  It would be huge for the younger kids coming up and trying to figure out if they want to play football or not.  When you start being successful, you have more people that want to be a part of it.  So it could be a really big thing for us if we could go out and accomplish that.”