CHULA —Tiftarea Academy hits the road tonight for its first football game of the 2019 season. The Panthers, coming off a state semifinals appearance last year, head for McDonough, where they face Creekside Christian Academy at 7:30 p.m.
Should the game go south, the Panthers have the luxury of a movie theater that is next door to the school’s campus. If the game is anything like last year’s, no script will be able to match the action on the field.
Tiftarea was 11-1 in 2018. They completed their first ever undefeated regular season, won the Region 3-AAA title, and not only made the state playoffs but advanced to their first semifinal since 2008.
Many names are gone from that roster, including four-year starting running back Spence Massey, but the Panthers do return many experienced players. That list includes quarterback Logan Crosson, who enters his third year starting in the position.
The Panthers played a quiet scrimmage last week at Trinity Christian in Dublin. It was a welcome change for head coach Erik Soliday.
“We needed to go hit somebody else,” he said, “gauge where we’re at a bit.” It was also important to get jitters out of their system. “We lost a lot of kids from a year ago. Not just good players, but good leadership. Great role-model kids.” Soliday said that aspect will be hard to replace.
At Trinity, Tiftarea got good film and were able to see what players could do in different roles and situations.
“Offensively, we did pretty well, but still weren’t quite as consistent as I’d like to be,” said Soliday.
“Defensively, we played pretty decent.” Stunts went especially well. “As a whole,” he said of the Panthers’ performance, “not bad.”
One plus is the amount of linemen he has. Tiftarea almost always has to play everyone on both sides of the ball. Soliday said he has about a dozen in uniform, enough to provide substitutions when needed.
Last year was Creekside Christian’s first in the GISA, having previously been a member of the GICAA. The transition was not the smoothest. A year after going 11-3 and reaching the GICAA championship game, they went 3-8 and missed the playoffs completely.
Soliday described the Eagles as “very athletic, very fast.” Some transfers have helped the program, he said. The squad scrimmaged against Unity Prep of East Point, where Creekside was on top of a 34-0 score.
“It’ll be a heck of a test for us, that’s for sure,” he said.
Terrell Academy will be Tiftarea’s next opponent and first home game of the season. The Eagles open at home tonight against Westfield.