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Defense strong, but Cats fall late

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Americus-Sumter’s John Thomas scored on a 1-yard run with 8.3 seconds left Friday night, as the visiting Panthers topped Bainbridge, 19-16, in a scrimmage game.

The teams’ varsity squads played the first three quarters, and Bainbridge held a 10-0 lead at the end of the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, the teams’ junior varsities came onto the field to play, and that’s when things started to get interesting.

Americus scored 13 unanswered points to take a 13-10 lead with 9:43 left in the fourth quarter. But the Bearcats’ second-string offense did not quit, putting together a 13-play, 56-yard drive that ended when Aaron Calloway scored on a 3-yard run with 3:25 remaining in the game.

Americus responded right back, using every last second and all three timeouts in its game-winning drive. On fourth-and-goal from the Bainbridge 1, Bearcats defenders hit Thomas but he was able to wriggle free and reach across for the winning score.

“We’ve still got a lot to work on,” Bainbridge coach Ed Pilcher said. “Our first-string defense played pretty well, but our reserves have got to improve.”

Bainbridge took advantage of a big defensive play to score the first touchdown. Americus quarterback Brice Benton’s pass went off the fingertips of Xavier Willis and into the hands of Bainbridge’s Dontavious Baulkman, who advanced it seven yards to the Americus 38.

During the ensuing drive, a false start penalty made it third-and-9 from the Americus 37 when quarterback Quincy Fortson ran a play-action pass play. He threw the ball down the right sideline toward Rashad Kelly, who out-jumped two defensive backs and came down with the ball on the Americus 1. One play later, Fortson kept the ball for a 1-yard touchdown run and Bainbridge led 7-0 after Daniel Provence’s extra point with 7:53 remaining.

Bainbridge increased its lead to 10-0 on the last play of the first half, when Provence kicked a 26-yard field goal as time expired.

“We want to continue to improve our game in all phases — offense, defense and special teams,” Pilcher said. “I’m real pleased with our effort. Our effort was real good tonight.”

Bainbridge’s first-string defense forced four Americus turnovers, including two interceptions and two turnovers on downs. Baulkman and Rodney Glenn had the interceptions.

The first turnover on downs came in late in the first quarter, when Americus was facing a fourth-and-10 from the Bainbridge 13. Benton connected with a 10-yard pass to Tyran Goober, but he came up inches short of the needed yardage.

The second came with 3:49 left in the third quarter, when Americus’ Deython Walton was knocked back 2 yards as the Panthers faced a fourth-and-1 from the Bainbridge 16.

“Our defense did a good of buckling down in the short-yardage situations,” Pilcher said.

Most of Bainbridge’s offense came via the running game. Terry Lewis had 16 carries for 54 yards, Damian Bouie had nine carries for 37 yards and Calloway finished with 13 carries for 59 yards and a touchdown.

Bainbridge will open its regular season Friday night at 7:30 p.m., as the Bearcats host Class AA Early County.

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