Panthers earn third straight win over Brantley Bulldogs

Published 12:04 am Saturday, September 23, 2017

A defensive struggle between two Class 1A titans gave way to an explosive finale as Georgiana fended off the visiting Brantley Bulldogs to hold on to a 26-15 win.

The silence of a scoreless first quarter was finally broken in the second as Georgiana quarterback Jamichael Stallworth connected with receiver Jamarcus Sims on an 8-yard diving catch for a touchdown.  Sims couldn’t reel in 2-point conversion, leaving the Panthers with a 6-0 advantage with 10:27 left in the quarter.

The Panther defense held firm, keeping the Bulldogs’ offense off the field for much of the first half.  But it was the Brantley defense that provided a spark first as cornerback D’Andre Sinclair picked off Stallworth  and sprinted deep within Panther territory.

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The interception set up Brantley running back Mack Wise for a lengthy run cut shy just outside the end zone before quarterback Parker Driggers punched it in on a redoubled effort to claim a Brantley 7-6 lead.

Undaunted by the interception, Stallworth connected with a second receiver, Chris Mixon, for a 27-yard strike for a touchdown to retake the lead 12-7.

And there the score would remain for nearly two quarters, despite Brantley dictating the pace of the entire third quarter on a clock-eating drive.

Brantley head football coach Ashley Kilcrease said that the Bulldogs’ failure to take back the lead just 12 yards shy of the end zone in the third could’ve ultimately proved the turning point of the night.

“We didn’t get in the end zone, and we could’ve gone up 14-12 there,” he said.  “And we had an overwhelming number of penalties.  Every time we got something going, we had something happen.  And the bottom line is that we’ve got to make plays and overcome that stuff—we didn’t do it and they did. 

“They have a tremendous amount of speed.  In the second half, they probably didn’t have three first downs, but they had two touchdowns on big plays.  That’s what we were afraid of, and that’s what got us.”

A screen from Stallworth to Sims, in which Sims streaked down the sideline more than 70 yards for a touchdown, stole the wind from the Bulldogs’ sails.

Despite the setback, Brantley narrowed the gap on the ensuing drive on a pass from Driggers to Sinclair to cut the Panther lead to just 3 with 3:58 remaining in the game.

But the Panthers’ subsequent kickoff return proved the nail in the coffin as Christian Williams bobbled a return only to sprint unimpeded from the Panthers’ 20 to the Bulldogs’ end zone for a touchdown, effectively ending the game with 3:41 remaining in the fourth.

But for Georgiana head football coach Ezell Powell, as well as everyone else in the stadium, the game never truly felt over thanks to a relentless Bulldogs offense that came just seconds shy of closing the gap.

When asked when he felt he could breathe a sigh of relief, Powell said ‘when the clock hit 0.0.’ But despite the harrowing fourth quarter, a win over Brantley—for the third time in a row—cements the Panthers as a team to be noticed.

“It’s one of those things where we’re trying to get our guys to expect this, week-in and week-out and year-in and year-out,” Powell said.  “They know that when they come here or we go there, they’re going to have to play their A-game in order to win.  And if we do that, we’ll do what we did tonight. 

“I think it has cemented us in the talks with some of the top-tier programs in the state because when you can do what we’ve done three years in a row against that group, it says a lot not only about the community, but the principal, the superintendent and everyone else who’s buying in, the players, the coaching staff and everyone.  And we’re doing the best we can to make that championship run just like everyone else is.”

The Panthers will have their work cut out for them once again next week as the team travels to the Mobile area to face the St. Lukes Wildcats.

“They’re just as good as this team was tonight, so we’re going to have our hands full,” Powell said.

“It doesn’t get any easier for us, but this win helps us understand the caliber team we are.  Going in, Brantley was ranked No. 3 in the state and we were ranked No. 6. So it made a lot of people know that while we’re not great, we’re not bad either.”