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Panthers prep for tough opener with Loachapoka

It’s been eight years, nine months and eight days since the last time the Georgiana Panthers and the Loachapoka Indians met on the gridiron.

They were a tough opponent then, shutting out the Panthers 17-0 in a first-round playoff game.

According to Georgiana head football coach Ezell Powell, not much has changed since 2007.

“They’re still a pretty tough opponent,” Powell said.

They’re going to be athletic, they’re going to be fast and they’re going to be physical.  They’re going to be somewhat similar to us, but we’re just going to have to execute our game plan to have a chance to win the ballgame.”

As the first game of the season, it’s also an opportunity to establish momentum necessary for success in September’s region play.

“A lot of things you want to accomplish in the year are helped when you get the first game under your belt, and it gives you confidence in going into the rest of the season and giving guys the hope and belief that they can actually accomplish the goals we’ve set before them.  But when you lose that game, it creates doubt, so you always want to get off to a good start.”

The Panthers will only get one shot at a good start, as the team has opted to forgo a preseason game for the second consecutive year.

“It’s what we wanted to do,” Powell said.  “It’s what we felt was best for us.  We tried to get a preseason game scheduled, but it just didn’t work out.  We did this last year and had a little success with it, so we said we’d try it again this year and see how it worked out for us.”

However, that doesn’t mean Powell and the Panthers aren’t ready.  After watching film and emulating the Indians’ offense and defense at practice, Powell is confident in the Panthers’ game plan.

Though the Indians’ greatest strength is tough to duplicate on the practice field.

“For one, when you’ve got a coach like Coach [Jerome] Tate who has been there as long as he has, the kids believe in him and they’ve bought into his program and his system, so the kids go out and do a good job of executing the game plan week-in and week-out,” Powell said. “They get after you on defense, and they’re very athletic and very fast.

“Those intangibles really make them a quality opponent, and that’s what he wanted and what I wanted with this game.  We want a team that’s going to make us work, but at the same time we didn’t want somebody to line up on the other side and have 90 players and we don’t have but 30.  It’s going to be a good, quality game, but an evenly-matched one at the same time.

The Panthers’ new play calling system was still rough around the edges a brief two weeks ago.  And though it’s still very much a work in progress, those edges since been smoothed out enough to employ on the battlefield Friday night.

“I’m not going to say we haven’t, because we have gotten a lot better at it,” Powell said. “And we’re going to use it on Friday night and see what it looks like, and just keep rolling with it from there.  The kids like it and I enjoy it.  It’s one of those things were they’ve bought into it, so they’re working hard each day to make sure it works.”

The Panthers will face the Friday night lights for the first time this season on the road in Loachapoka Friday night, beginning at 7 p.m.