Tiftarea advances to semifinals on Frederica forfeit

Tiftarea Academy players run through their sign before the 2021 Valwood game.

CHULA — Tiftarea Academy is a GISA football semifinalist, but not the way head coach Erik Soliday intended.

Frederica Academy has forfeited Friday’s elite eight football game. Soliday said Tuesday afternoon it was because of COVID-19 cases at Frederica. The game was to have been played on St. Simons Island.

“The kids gets robbed of a playoff game,” said Soliday. “I hate when they miss a game.”

The teams had already met twice this year, with the Panthers winning 29-7. Soliday had been looking forward to the showdown, not just because the odds were in his favor, but also because he wanted to see what his offensive and defensive lines could do after a marvelous job shutting down Valwood earlier this month.

“Unfortunately, this happens,” he said.

Frederica Academy’s published 2021-22 COVID plan requires any student who tests positive to quarantine for 10 days. Primary contacts of someone with a positive test are required to quarantine at least seven days. Only those who are vaccinated and showing no signs of illness do not have to quarantine.

The forfeit win moves Tiftarea to the state semifinals for the fourth consecutive year. They will either play Bulloch Academy (5-6) or John Milledge Academy (9-0). John Milledge has won its last 33 games, dating back to the start of the 2019 campaign, and 45 of its last 46. Should Bulloch pull an upset, the semifinal game would be in Chula.

It also means the Panthers will go two weeks without football. They earned a first round bye for being the fifth-ranked team in the brackets and last played Nov. 5 at Valwood.

Tiftarea won a 32-14 contest on a very rainy 45-degree night. Conditions saw Soliday limit his playbook. Only three players touched the ball on offense, Dylan Harbort, Justin Moore and Kameron Brown, a record low for their head coach.

“I’ve never had that few,” he said. “Never in my whole career.”

It worked, even with Harbort being the only player to touch the ball after halftime.

“They couldn’t stop him, so I wasn’t going to be the one to stop him,” Soliday laughed. There was a moment Harbort did not have to be involved in moving the ball, but did anyway when he returned a shanked punt 19 yards for a touchdown. “That worked out perfect,” he said.

The conditions were adverse, but Soliday cited the 2019 contest between Tiftarea and Bulloch as potentially being worse, “But I think it rained harder at the Valwood game.”

“It never stopped at Valwood. And it was cold, too.”

Soliday wasn’t the only one feeling the temperatures. In the second half, the Panthers standing behind him began dancing and doing the Braves’ chop. “They were doing anything they could to stay warm,” he said. Soliday said he did question them, to make sure there wasn’t a nickname confusion. There was none.

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