Panthers head to Brookwood on short rest

Tiftarea's Matthew Malone grabs hold of Pinewood's Forrest Johns for a tackle.

CHULA — Tiftarea Academy will take its second of three long road trips tonight. If the next two go like the first, head coach Erik Soliday might want to take more of them.

When the road trips result in wins “It’s a lot easier ride back” said Soliday.

The Panthers shut down Frederica Academy at St. Simons last week, 29-7 to improve to 2-1. They’ll go similar mileage this time, but hang a right in Waycross, en route to Charlton County. This will be Tiftarea’s first ever regular season football road game against a GHSA opponent.

Tiftarea surprised Charlton a year ago, 24-21, under the lights of the Panther Pit. It may be tougher to surprise the Indians this time around, especially with it being in the unfriendly confines of The Swamp.

Charlton is off to a 3-0 start, their best since 2017. They’ve already avenged one loss from a year ago, exploding in the fourth quarter to defeat McIntosh County Academy, 22-8.

It’s a return to form for the Indians, who have four state titles to their credit.

“They’re playing really well,” Soliday said. In winning over MCA, Najee Smith caught a go-ahead pass from Jaylon King. Jaylen Lilly had the other two scores. “They’ve got a lot of kids out, a lot of returners from last year. They’re playing with a lot more confidence. You can tell they’ve grown up.”

Confidence and growing up isn’t limited to the Indians. Soliday’s watching the same happen with his young crew.

“One of our goals was to find a way to get better every week,” he said. They seem to be doing that in leaps and bounds. Tiftarea’s first win saw them shut down Bulloch Academy star Rodney Hill. Against Frederica, they limited evasive back Jordan Triplett.

“We’ve improved on both sides of the ball,” said Soliday. They study their mistakes on film after each game and he said they’ve been able to fix what they’ve seen. The work they did on Triplett especially pleased him. Triplett was held to 33 yards. “Our kids did a really good job of tackling … not really giving him a chance to get started.”

Dylan Harbort completed 12 of 16 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns, those going to Mason Tyler and Matthew Malone. Harbort did his usual thing as a runner, grinding out 136 yards and two more touchdowns. He already has 430 yards as a rusher and passer in 2021.

Following the return from the swamp in the wee hours of Saturday morning, the Panthers will prep for the third long trip; next week, they travel to Bellville to play Pinewood Christian. Pinewood (2-1) travels to Valwood Friday night. The Patriots rolled Southland Academy in their latest game, 52-19.

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