MILLEDGEVILLE —The 2019 high school football season came to an end for Tiftarea Academy Friday in the GISA Class AAA semifinals. John Milledge won to advance to the finals, 42-14.
John Milledge advances to play Valwood in the finals Friday at Mercer University.
The Panthers saw their season end the semifinals for the second straight season.
“It’s always tough,” said head coach Erik Soliday. “I’m exceptionally proud of these kids, the way they played this year. They surpassed everybody’s expectations by a long ways.”
Soliday’s team (8-4) was not expected to reach this round. They were the only team left in Class AAA to not earn a first round bye. Last-minute field goals had won the first two rounds of state games for them.
“It tells you the character of this group to get this far. I’m so proud of what they did.”
Tiftarea was down 14-6 at halftime, but a steady dose of Amaad Foston and an interception helped put the game out of reach.
Foston had an unofficial 31 carries for 210 yards Friday and scored three of the Trojans’ six touchdowns. Seventy-nine of those yards were in the third quarter.
After forcing a three-and-out from Tiftarea, John Milledge marched sharply and steadily down the field, going 42 yards in in plays. Foston carried the last seven of them, going over at 7:56. Hunter Noles, who booted all six point-afters, was down the middle on this one.
Down 21-6 and half the third quarter gone already, the Panthers wanted to pick up yards and record time.
This did not work out as planned when a fake punt became a turnover.
Marcus Prestwood stepped in front of a Logan Crosson pass and took it back for a 28-yard touchdown at 7:19. By the end of the quarter, the Trojans were knocking on the door again, with first-and-goal from the 4. Foston scored on a one-yard burst three plays into the fourth quarter.
Tiftarea immediately set about a long drive, Crosson passes to Will Ross and Brock Hammond helping to get the ball in the red zone. Crosson threw for the end zone, but Landen Burney plucked the ball out of the air, spoiling another chance.
Kelvin Jackson added an insurance touchdown at 3:46, a 37-yard burst.
With the end of the season now eyeballing them, the Panthers went out with fire.
Crosson pushed through for first downs on runs.
Adam McKinney added 13 more on a carry before Crosson willed himself to 16- and 13-yard gains. From the 4, Crosson went over with 16 seconds left to play.
John Adam Copeland gathered in the final two points for the year, going to his knees to catch a Crosson conversion pass.
“They never quit,” said Soliday.
The teams were evenly matched for a quarter.
Ross and Ben Matt deposited John Milledge quarterback Grayson Hopkins for a 12-yard sack on the very first play of the game.
Foston was mostly held in check - 46 yards in nine attempts - but was just warming up.
The second period began with a 43-yard run by Foston, putting the ball at the 1. He scored two plays later for a 7-0 lead.
Tiftarea did not immediately respond on offense, but after Ross recovered a John Milledge fumble deep in Trojan territory, they did come to life.
McKinney’s longest run of the night, 22 yards, moved the pigskin from the 28 to the 6. Crosson had to fall on a high snap, but then tossed a high ball for Jayk Sailer in the back of the end zone. He came down with it at 5:08, but any Panther hopes for a tie were dashed when the hosts blocked the extra point kick.
John Milledge soon recovered.
Hopkins completed only one pass for the evening, but it was a good one, 30 yards to Prestwood for a touchdown. John Milledge went ahead 14-6 and never fell behind.
Crosson finished his high school football career by completing eight of 30 passes for 100 yards. More than half of them went on a long completion to McKinney in the third.
That drive ended with a turnover on downs, a fate that befell Tiftarea twice inside the 40.
McKinney had two catches for 75 yards. Ross, Hammond and Sailer also had two catches each, Sailer earning a touchdown.
“We’re really excited about what we have coming back,” Soliday said. “We know we’ll be right back here again next year if they work hard.
“It’s tough, but we’ll be there.”
A big crowd traveled to see Tiftarea play in the semifinals. They gathered around the team on the field postgame as Soliday talked to the players. At the end of the speech, Soliday pointed out how many fans were there, telling the Panthers that show much they meant to everyone.