Georgiana, McKenzie rivalry to dictate region championship

Published 6:27 pm Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Georgiana Panthers snapped a seven-game losing streak in 2015 by defeating the McKenzie Tigers 38-12.

The Georgiana Panthers snapped a seven-game losing streak in 2015 by defeating the McKenzie Tigers 38-12.

The Battle of Eight Mile is reignited once again this week as McKenzie travels to Georgiana, though the stakes have rarely been higher.

Both the Panthers (7-0) and the Tigers (6-1) meet with not just a year’s worth of bragging rights, but also a claim for the regional championship on the line.

Georgiana head football coach Ezell Powell said that in his many years involved with both schools’ programs, he can’t recall the last time the two met under such circumstances.

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And though the two teams are comparable on paper, he suggests that the X’s and O’s will take a backseat to emotion during the rivalry game.

“You just never know,” Powell said. “Because when you’re talking about rivalry teams, kids play with a lot of emotion and passion.  A lot of times they’ll play harder than they played in previous games. Some kids put too much pressure on themselves and make mistakes that they wouldn’t normally make.  And that’s what you get in games like this.

“For us, we just want to get out and execute.  But for us and any team, the team that can settle down, execute and play the ballgame will be the team that has the most success.”

McKenzie head football coach Tony Norris agreed, adding that the Panthers would prove the Tigers’ toughest test thus far this season.

“Coach Powell has done a great job with those kids over there in Georgiana, and it’s going to be a great challenge for us—one that I’m interested in seeing how we handle,” Norris said.

“This is what you play high school football for. Both teams are coming in undefeated in region play, so whoever is able to win this game next Friday will really be in the driver’s seat in the region, and they’ll really control their own destiny and what goes on from there.”

With only eight miles and a desire for the region championship separating the two teams, precious little is kept a secret between Powell and Norris.  Though both coaches—and by extension, both teams—are closely acquainted, secrets and subterfuge won’t get either very far.

“For me, I don’t change a whole lot,” Powell said. “We try not to get to fancy when it comes from week to week.  We may have one or two wrinkles that we add in each week, but after that happens it’s back to business as usual.”

The Panthers bring one of the most balanced offenses in Class 1A Region 2 play, courtesy of an intimidating ground game powered by junior Cameron Longmire, with quarterback Jamichael Stallworth proving equally capable with his legs as well as his arm.

Stallworth’s targets are just as numerous, with Jamarcus Sims, Christian Williams, Keinderus Mobley and others who have proven capable receivers this season.

Powell said that though McKenzie’s roster is a bit smaller than Georgiana’s, the team’s level of talent is just as potent.

“Everybody knows what Chris Shufford is capable of, so you have to do a great job of slowing him down and keeping him from breaking big runs on you,” Powell said.

“William Brown, the quarterback and fullback, does some really nice things for them. Quindario Lee plays wide receiver and he’s about 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4, and any time you’ve got a guy that size, he poses a threat on both sides of the ball.  It’s the same thing with the other two.  So we just have to understand where those kids are, what their capabilities are and respect them but still play the game.”

The Panthers and Tigers square off for the 51st time Friday in Georgiana.  Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.