AMERICUS, Ga. -- The Americus-Sumter Panthers opened their season on Friday when the Kendrick Cherokees traveled to Alton Shell Stadium with an upset in mind. Although the Cherokees scored the first points of the game, the Panthers would prove too much in the second half as they outscored Kendrick 19-0 in the final two quarters to earn the lopsided 25-6 victory.
The Panthers won the coin toss and elected to receive the ball to open the 2012 season. On the first play of the game sophomore phenom running back Wesley Fields took the ball up the middle for a 17 yard gain to the 48 yard line. Following another run by Fields for no gain, senior quarterback Bryce Benton found junior wide receiver Michael Russell for a 17 yard pass completion to the Kendrick 35 yard line. Unfortunately for the Panthers their drive would stall out as Benton was sacked by senior linebacker Jeff Reed of Kendrick on third down, setting up a fourth and 29 situation.
On the punt, the snap got over Panther punter Dylan Morgan's head, and although he was able to recover and get the punt off, he was only able to punt the ball back to Americus-Sumter's own 41 yard line.
The Cherokees took over on the Panther's 41 yard line and quickly got an offside penalty to give them a first and five from the Panther's 36 yard line. After two short runs by Reed, Kendrick's Jamar Comar found and crease and scampered into the endzone on a 28 yard touchdown run to give the Cherokees a 6-0 lead. The Cherokees then went for a two point conversion but failed to complete the pass, keeping the score at 6-0 in their favor.
In the second half the Panthers' defense and special teams would take control of the game and lead Americus-Sumter to the dominating victory.
The Cherokees received the kick, but a fumble by junior quarterback Jonathan Hines would be recovered by Americus-Sumter's Stephon Bell.
The Panthers started their first drive of the second half going backwards as they were called for holding to move them back to the Kendrick 43 yard line for a first and twenty. Three dropped passes set the Panthers up in a fourth down and twenty situation, still at the 43 yard line to bring on punter Dylan Morgan.
Morgan boomed a punt which died at the Kendrick five yard line to pin the Cherokees deep in their own territory. The Cherokees then began their drive and facing a fourth down and three yards to go converted a fake punt on a keeper to take the ball to their own 20 yard line.
Back-to-back illegal procedure calls and a Panther sack would put the Cherokees inside their own ten yard line, and their drive would soon stall out setting up a fourth and 24 inside their own six yard line. With 3:59 remaining in the third quarter the Cherokees lined up to punt. On the snap, senior defensive lineman Leroy Henderson broke through the line and blocked the punt. Henderson then fell on the ball for a touchdown to tie the game at 6-6. A missed field goal by the Panthers would keep the game tied at 6-all, but this spark was just what Americus-Sumter needed to start their fire.
Kendrick quickly ran into another fourth down situation on their next drive and were forced to punt the ball back to the Panthers' eager offense. When the offense took the ball at their own 39 yard line they had only one thing in mind; touchdown.
Fields ran on first down for 10 yards and continued to churn up the field to put the Panthers at Kendrick's 25 yard line. Americus-Sumter was then called for holding, setting up a second down and 17 at Kendrick's 35 yard line. On the next play Benton again found Russell wide open in the flats, and Russell evaded Cherokee tacklers all the way to the endzone for the touchdown. Following a failed two point conversion, Americus-Sumter took a 12-6 lead with 11:00 remaining in the game.
The Panthers would then quickly score again as Deondre Holmes would pick off the Hines' tipped pass and take it to the house for a touchdown. The Panthers would again fail on the two point conversion attempt as Thomas came up just short on a quarterback keeper out of the wildcat formation. The touchdown would put the Panthers on top 18-6, but they were not done scoring just yet.
Kendrick's next drive would once again stall out and the Cherokees fourth down fake punt attempt was snuffed out by the Panther defense. The Panthers offense then took over on Kendrick's 48 yard line. A quick 38 yard pass from Benton to Thomas would put the Panthers in scoring position, and Fields capped off the quick drive with a ten yard run to give Americus-Sumter a 25-6 lead.
With 3:44 left in left in the contest the Cherokees successfully pounded the ball down the field on the Panther defense but it was too little too late. The Cherokees got as far as the Americus-Sumter 20 yard line before the clock expired sealing the win for the Panthers. Americus-Sumter is now 1-0 on the young season and the Cherokees drop to 0-1 with the tough loss.