BELLVILLE - Never let the Tiftarea Academy Panthers have a rematch. They might just win.
The Panthers are headed to the GISA Class AAA final four for the third consecutive season after a 28-7 upset win at Pinewood Christian Friday. They move on to play at Frederica Academy this Friday in the state semifinals.
The last time Tiftarea and Pinewood met on a football field, Pinewood won by a 57-14 decision. The game was marred by injuries and Patriot quarterback Mic Wasson ran for more than 300 yards.
That was not the case this time. This time, Pinewood scored 50 points less, a massive swing.
"Our defense has really stepped up," said Tiftarea head coach Erik Soliday. "We played well, we tackled really well." He had not felt the Panthers tackled well in the first game against Pinewood.
That was the major difference in the rematch, said Soliday, plus being able to maintain possession.
Dylan Harbort was once again the star of the show on offense.
"Dylan Harbort had a great game," said Soliday. Statistics had not been finalized Saturday afternoon, but he estimated Harbort ran for around 140 yards. Harbort had several touchdowns.
Harbort had help from teammates. Jayk Sailer helped on the ground with a score, and as a receiver. Kam Brown had big catches, as did John Adam Copeland. "We spread it around," said Soliday.
"We knew what was on the line here," he said. "If we get everybody healthy, we're a little bit better football team."
Last season, the Panthers defeated Heritage of Newnan in the second round of the state tournament after falling to them during the regular season.
The upcoming Frederica-Tiftarea game will be another rematch from this season. On Sept. 25, the Panthers won, 21-18.
Frederica advanced to the semifinals via a 34-27 win over Bulloch Academy. The other half of the semifinals is composed of undefeated John Milledge Academy and Westfield. John Milledge blanked Creekside Christian, 37-0, while Westfield won a wild 49-48 battle over Brookwood.
Should the Panthers advance to the state finals, they will play Dec. 11 at Mercer.