steve.carter@gaflnews.com



MACON -- The Stratford Academy Eagles won their 18th game in a row Friday night defeating the Tiftarea Academy Panthers 38-0 in the second round of the state Class AAA playoffs.

Playing a team that dressed more players (65) than Tiftarea has boys in high school (54), it was bound to be a long night for the Panthers. However, the Panthers stayed with the Eagles for most of the first half. The score was 21-0 at that point, but Tiftarea mistakes had allowed the Eagles to have scoring drives of just 27 and 25 yards during the first 24 minutes.

The scores came on a pair of one-yard runs from Robbie Sovie and Kyle Johnston. Tiftarea was still in the game late in the first half, but Johnston hit Albert Swann for a 43-yard touchdown pass with 1:14 left in the first half. That score came on a blown coverage on a fourth-and-six play.

Even with the miscues, Tiftarea head coach Jack Johnson said his team would still have been in for a long night.

"Mistakes didn't lose this game for us, though. They are just a great football team," Johnson said. "That team will win the state championship.

They could beat any Class A team in GHSA and most AA teams."

The third quarter was a defensive battle until late in the period.

Three plays after a fumble recovery by Tiftarea's Grant Gibbs gave the Panthers the ball, Sovie intercepted a Ric Ellis pass and returned it 46 yards to the Tiftarea one.

That led to a one-yard score by Johnston. The point after by Peter Walker made the score 28-0 with 31.4 seconds left in the third quarter.

The Eagles then used their numbers advantage to wear down the Panthers in the fourth quarter.

Stratford scored 10 more points in that period on a two-yard run by Stephen Osborn and a 42-yard field goal from Walker.

The Panthers were held to just 116 total yards in the game.

"I have been coaching for a lot of years and that defense may be the best I have ever seen. We would have a hole opened up and they would close it before we could move," Johnson said. "Then we would throw to what looked like a wide-open receiver to just see someone come from nowhere to intercept the ball. They were like the "Invisible Man", they were always there when you least expected them."

Taylor Hammond had 14 carries for 47 yards to lead the Panthers on offense.

Johnny Camp and Jamey Johnson also had several hits on defense for the Tiftarea team.

After being held to 48 yards in the first half, Sovie came back to gain 74 on seven carries in the third quarter. His 122 yards led the Eagles, which had 359 total yards of offense.

The Panthers end their year with a 6-5-1 record, the Eagles, 12-0, will now play Tattnall in the state semifinals next week. That will be rematch of last year's state title game, which Stratford won.



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