CHULA — It will be a substantially different football schedule for Tiftarea Academy in Augusta when the Panthers start their regular season.
Only half of Tiftarea’s regular season opponents are back in 2020 from 2019 — Terrell Academy, Frederica, Brookwood, Southland and Valwood.
The main reason for having to change so many games are changes in the Georgia Independent School Association. Heritage of Newnan, Loganville Christian and Deerfield-Windsor all move to the Georgia High School Association this fall. The Panthers have also dropped Creekside Christian and Westfield from their slate.
Though head coach Erik Soliday had to find five new opponents to fill out his schedule, none are unfamiliar, either to him or Tiftarea.
The Panthers open the year at Community Christian, which is based in Stockbridge. This will be the first time playing the Knights in the regular season, but the two did meet up for a scrimmage in 2017. In that game, Tiftarea won 34-0.
Community won the Georgia Association of Private and Parochial Schools (former the GICAA) state championship five times, including the last four titles. In last year’s championship, the Knights rolled over The King’s Academy, 41-0.
Tiftarea’s second game will also be on the road, one pretty familiar to locals. They go back to Statesboro to face Bulloch Academy, where the seats may still be wet after last year’s heavy rain. The Panthers opened state with a 17-14 upset over Bulloch on Jayk Sailer’s late field goal. Sailer, who should be back this fall, also had a touchdown reception in that contest.
The Panthers will finally see the Panther Pit Sept. 11 against Frederica Academy. They were supposed to face the Knights on the road last year, but mandatory evacuations because of Hurricane Dorian put an end to that plan. The two have played three times, all since 2014. Tiftarea won in Chula in 2014.
Following Frederica is a new opponent for Tiftarea, but not for Soliday.
For only the second time in history, the Panthers will be taking on a GHSA opponent on the gridiron.
Legendary Charlton County comes to town on Sept. 18. The Indians, who have produced Champ Bailey and four state championships in their history, are looking to rebound off a tough 2019. The squad went 1-9 last year, their worst since 1985. Soliday squared off against Charlton at both Turner County and Americus. His last game versus the Indians was good, a 38-6 win in 2012.
Pinewood Christian Academy, Trinity Christian of Dublin and Terrell Academy make up the rest of the non-region campaign.
Pinewood returns to the slate for the first time since 2015. The two played annually from 2010-15, with Pinewood holding a 7-4 advantage. The Patriots went 9-2 last year, falling to Valwood in the semifinals. Soliday’s Panthers last saw Trinity in the 2018 state quarterfinals, but have not played them in the regular season since 2011. The Crusaders owned a 3-7 mark in 2019.
Terrell Academy and Tiftarea are quite familiar with one another, having played 29 times since 1977. They have been annual opponents since 2012. The Panthers have won the last seven of these encounters, despite Terrell advancing deep into the state tournament last season.
Deerfield-Windsor’s departure leaves the Tiftarea with only three Region 3-AAA opponents.
Region will start Oct. 23 at Brookwood, a team they edged 12-7 in 2019. The winner this time around will take the lead in the series. Both teams have earned 17 wins since the initial game in 1975.
Brookwood is Tiftarea’s second most common opponent at 34 games. The No. 1 school will also be around during region. Tiftarea and Valwood have played 35 times since the Valiants started up a program in 1984.
Sandwiched between Valwood and Brookwood is a trip to Southland in Americus. Southland won a 14-7 struggle in 2019 but, like the Panthers, fell victim to John Milledge Academy in the playoffs. Southland should be a much younger team this time around. Their leading quarterback was to graduate this spring, as were their top three receivers and top three running backs.
Schedule: Aug. 28 at Community Christian; Sept. 4 at Bulloch Academy; Sept. 11 Frederica Academy; Sept. 18 Charlton County; Sept. 25 Pinewood Christian Academy; Oct. 2 at Trinity Christian (Dublin); Oct. 16 Terrell Academy; Oct. 23 at Brookwood; Oct. 30 at Southland Academy and Nov. 6 Valwood.