CHULA -- Since returning to the GISA AA ranks, the Tiftarea Academy athletic program is making some noise. Last season state titles were won by the softball, cross country and golf teams. The football team came within a play of winning the state championship.
This year the softball team has already repeated as state title holders and the football team has turned the 2003 season around and has rolled into the state playoffs with a full head of steam. The present looks pretty good at the Chula school.
The future doesn't look too bad either.
The Tiftarea Academy junior varsity football team recently completed a perfect season winning all seven games on the 2003 slate. According to coaches Rick Ellis and Tommy Ganas, the perfect season is thought to be the only one in the school's history for the junior varsity team.
"They had a lot of heart and a lot of determination," said head coach Ellis. "These kids were really cacheable."
Not only did the JV Panthers go unbeaten on the year, they dominated nearly every team they played. The closest contest was a 22-14 win over Robert Toombs.
"We were down 14-0 at the half," said Ganas, "and we were able to come back on them."
Tiftarea started the season with as 36-0 win over Fullington and followed it with a 38-6 win over Southland. The Deerfield Windsor Knights fell next, 48-18. Then it was Sherwood 36-16.
The Panthers blanked Crisp Academy 20-0 before the Toombs rally and finished the season with another shellacking of Fullington, 44-0.
"Coach Ellis took a group of average kids and turned them into all-stars," said Ganas, who also praised the efforts of fellow assistant Sherrod Rodgers.
One of those "average" kids is Ganas' son Thomas, who along with Layton Gatewood, led the Panther rushing attack. Those two, and quarterback Chase Ellis, were responsible for most of Tiftarea's points during the season.
The threesome was able to inflict damage to opposing defenses on the strength of an offensive line that made steady improvement throughout the year.
"Everybody always gives credit to the skill players," said Ganas, "but our offensive line got better every game, enabling us to run on tough defenses and keep their linebackers honest."
That offensive line included Will Fender at center, tackles Jordan Weeks and Clint Holley, as well as Chandler Hammond and Cody Johnson. Standouts on the defensive side of the ball included Andrew Kicklighter and T.J. Shiver.
According to Ellis, several eighth grade members of the Panther junior varsity team should move up to the varsity level next year.
"The future looks pretty good for the next three or four years," said Ellis.
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