CHULA -- Since defeating the Brookwood School Warriors and going 1-0 in the GISA's Region 3-AA standings several weeks ago, the Tiftarea Academy Panthers have fallen on hard times. The Panthers (2-4) have lost to the Deerfield-Windsor Knights, Pinewood Christian School and the Bulloch Academy Gators.
Last week against Bulloch the Panthers gave up more than 400 yards rushing in the 42-19 setback.
Tomorrow the Panthers go on the road again as they travel to Damascus to take on new region foe Southwest Georgia Academy. The Warriors defeated the Panthers in the quarterfinals of the AA state playoffs last year.
Friday's contest carries a heavy prize. The winner will have the inside track to the regular season region championship. Next week the Panthers travel to Valdosta to take on the Valwood Valiants before returning home to take on the Fullington Academy in the regular season finale.
The first place finisher in the league will also have homefield advantage in the first and possibly the second round of this year's state playoffs.
While last week it was the opposition's rushing game that gave the Panthers a fit, this week's opponent will likely take to the air.
The tandem of quarterback Brian Lovering and receiver Bryan Grebel has accounted for 10 touchdowns. Lovering has also thrown three TD strikes to receiver James Stone.
On the season Lovering has 14 touchdown passes while accumulating 1,166 yards.
"The biggest thing is that they believe in themselves," said Tiftarea head coach Mayo Tucker of the Southwest Georgia Academy Warriors.
"They're pretty good with what we've seen."
The Warriors are 5-2 on the year and are also 1-0 in the league with a 41-20 win over Valwood. The two losses came to Southland Academy (32-29) and Deerfield-Windsor (28-14).
The Panthers were defeated by Deerfield-Windsor two weeks ago and they dropped a preseason scrimmage (6-0) to Southland.
"We've had good practices for these past two days," said Tucker. "Monday was one of the better practices we've had in the past two years, emotionally speaking.
"We've got a better attitude. We know it's all in front of us."
Friday the Panthers will take the field at full strength for the first time in several weeks. Josh Ray returns to the lineup full time at both fullback and linebacker. Garrett Bowen will also be back in the lineup after sitting out the Bulloch game with a sore knee. Bowen's absence caused some last minute shifting around of personnel which kept the Panthers off balance most of the night against the Gators.
Sophomore quarterback Bryan Ellis continues to hold onto second place in the state passing standings (behind Lovering) with 766 yards and 11 touchdowns. Matthew Souter and Trai Gay are number two and three, respectively, in the receiver standings. Souter has 22 catches for 298 yards and Gay has eight grabs for 264 yards. Whit Coarsey will be the leading rusher on the field Friday as he has 617 yards on 88 carries.
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