CHULA -- The last time the Tiftarea Academy Panthers traveled to Macon to take on the Stratford Academy Eagles, it was for a matchup in the second round of the 2001 state Class AAA playoffs. Stratford won that game, 38-0, and advanced to the state title game, which the Eagles lost to Tattnall.
With the two teams playing again tomorrow night at 8 p.m., a lot has changed since that playoff game.
Stratford is 1-1-1 on the year and has not won since the opening game of the season. Tiftarea has a 3-0 record and is ranked No. 1 in the Class AA poll.
Even with all of that, Tiftarea head coach Roger Womack is not looking past the Eagles.
"Stratford has got a good football team. They are just like all of the AAA teams up there in the Macon area. They have good players and are coached very well," said Womack.
Head coach Rodney Collins is back for his 15th year at Stratford. He currently has a 111-62-2 record.
The Eagles lost a number of players from last year's 12-1 team. However, Stratford's B and C teams each went undefeated last year.
To go along with the talented young players, there is a nucleus of returnees, quarterback Brad Stevens, wide receiver Albert Swann, linebacker Bo Baggarly and defensive tackle Hotch Young.
Stevens is in his first year at quarterback. He is joined in the backfield by a pair of young running backs, Michael Lemon and Rob Forrester. The young backfield's job has been made easier by four returning starters along the offensive line.
Even with the young players, Stratford holds one big advantage over the Class AA Tiftarea team.
"They are dressing out 62 players. That gives them a big advantage over us," Womack stated. "That is not as many as they dressed last season, but it still is a lot more than what we will have out there."
Even with against them, Tiftarea should go into the game with confidence.
The Panthers have outscored their three opponents 95-13. That includes a 27-0 win over the defending Class AA state champions, Westwood, this past Friday.
"We made some mistakes in that game. We dropped two touchdown passes in the first half and Taylor was stopped on the six-inch line on the last play of the first half," said Womack. "We could have easily led 21-0 at the half in that game."
After a pair of strong rushing games against Valwood and Robert Toombs to start the year, Tiftarea turned the ball over to quarterback Ric Ellis against Westwood.
The senior went 7-for-14 passing for 170 yards and three touchdowns. Womack pointed out those numbers did not include the two touchdown passes that were dropped.
"We were able to throw the ball well. That was a good sign for us," said Womack.
Another positive from the game was a 99-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
"That makes a coach feel good when you can drive 99 yards in the fourth quarter of a game," Womack stated.
Game time tomorrow night in Macon is 8 p.m.
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