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April 22, 2014

Panthers will play six on the road in 2014

TIFTON — For Ryan Branch and the Tiftarea Academy Panthers football team, it is one step closer to a regular football schedule. They have 10 games this year, down from the 11 of the past two.

However, they are still a bit of an oddball. They will be playing six of their games on the road in 2014. Eventually that will turn into good news. There should be six at home in 2015.

Panthers and their fans will be well familiar with eight of their opponents, as they are all schools they have seen at least eight times. The other two are newcomers, one so new that this is their first varsity season.

The Georgia Christian Generals were once a competitive GHSA school and fielded football teams from 1963-66. Small numbers and injuries caused the team to disband and the sport was only revived last year, in junior varsity form. They will be the second game of the year for Tiftarea, with the contest occurring in Dasher Aug. 29.

Frederica Academy, the other fresh face, is only slightly more experienced. This will only be their fourth year of football, but they sure have taken to it. The team won the 2012 Class A championship and were in the semifinals last year. They will be coming to Chula Sept. 5.

The year starts with a road game at Crisp Academy on Aug. 22. The Panthers have won the last six in the series. Next are the GCS and Frederica games, then a road game at Pinewood Christian Sept. 12. Pinewood is an opponent that Branch said he specifically wanted to keep on the schedule and he will have to go to Bellville to do so. Tiftarea has lost the last three and are 3-5 all-time.

Region starts a week later. While the Panthers stay in Class AAA, their region has been shifted to include some new members. One of the schools is Valwood and they play Sept. 19 at Chula.

The two have not crossed paths since 2011. They were scheduled to do so as scrimmage opponents last year, but a rainstorm soaked the Panther Pit and with lightning in the area, they only got in a few plays before the game was cancelled. They hold a 19-10 advantage in the series, but have lost the last two.

Sept. 26 is a game at Deerfield-Windsor. Tiftarea has lost 13 straight with their last win coming in 1998. Both of their series wins have been in Albany. The team goes west again a week later for a game with Westwood at Camilla. Westwood was a state quarterfinalist in 2013, after three straight years in the championship game.

The Panthers will have an opportunity to rest before another road game at Brookwood. They hold a slim 14-13 series advantage and had an even more slim 28-27 win last year, courtesy of a field goal by Zach Beier.

The regular season winds up with Southland Academy on Oct. 24 and Terrell Academy on Halloween. Both are home games. Tiftarea will try to post their second ever win on the Raiders and continue their winning streak against Terrell. The finale with the Eagles is a bit of a bookend as they were opening game opponents in 2013.

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