Tiftarea tries Terrell Academy in home opener

Tiftarea’s Logan Crosson (14) watches and Trenton Fender blocks for Adam McKinney during the Panthers’ game with Creekside Christian.

TIFTON — It’s nice to be back home, according to Tiftarea Academy head football coach Erik Soliday. One week after the 2019 season started, the Panthers will get to play in the Panther Pit against Terrell Academy. They will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. against Terrell Academy. Both teams are 1-0.

“They’ve got a really good team,” said Soliday about Terrell. “They’re solid.”

The Eagles got off on the right foot last week with a 34-7 victory over Westfield. The start is seemingly a continuation from the 2018 season, which saw them shake off an 0-3 start en route to a second place finish in the GISA state Class AA playoffs.

Terrell scored the first 34 points of the Westfield game, doing so with a balanced offense. Quintard Wright was credited with 84 rushing yards and quarterback Blaine Grace had 78. “They’re going to spread it out,” said Soliday. He said the Eagles had an effective passing game to go along with Grace’s mobility.

A Tiftarea win tonight would be doubly special for Soliday. Besides moving the Panthers to 2-0, it would be the 200th for his high school head coaching career. Soliday’s first head coaching job was with Turner County. He earned his first victory against Irwin County in 1989.

The Panthers had few troubles with Creekside Christian last week, building up to a 43-0 lead before surrendering a touchdown. The final score was 43-7, nearly identical to the 53-12 finish against Creekside in 2018.

“We executed fairly well,” Soliday said. That may be an understatement. In a contest with an abbreviated second half, Tiftarea had 350 total yards. They moved the ball an average of 8.6 yards per play, which includes incompletions.

Yardage was nearly evenly split between passing and rushing. Quarterback Logan Crosson threw for 158 yards, according to team stats input in MaxPreps. Nine rushers combined for 195 yards. The bulk of the ground game came from Adam McKinney, who ran 13 times for 97 yards, scoring twice. Mark Coley also had two rushing touchdowns.

Dylan Harbort was all over the field for Tiftarea. Normally a backup quarterback, Soliday is using him in more ways this year.

“Dylan is doing a lot for us,” he said. “He could be anywhere.”

The “anywhere” included rushing (one touchdown), receiving (another touchdown) and on defense (four tackles). Harbort had the most points of anyone on the field as he added a two-point conversion to the pair of touchdowns.

Soliday expects trouble from Terrell Academy’s defense. “They’re big up front,” he said, and also like to stunt their linebackers.

Tiftarea will bring its own stout defense into the game. Banks Johnson and Jaden Jones led the squad with six tackles each.

Terrell Academy and Tiftarea are nearly neck-and-neck in their rivalry, which stretches back to 1977. The Eagles have a slight advantage at 15-13, though Tiftarea has won the last six in the series. Only one of those has been close, a 20-14 win four years ago.

The Panthers will take a break next week before resuming their schedule Sept. 13 at Westfield. The Hornets were beaten by Terrell Academy last week. Westfield hosts Deerfield-Windsor tonight and will travel to Southland Academy next week.

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