Where has this season gone? It seems like Week Zero was yesterday and Panther Nation was gearing up to take on the Ninety Six Wildcats in the season opener. Friday night will mark the end of the regular season, but there is one common denominator. The Ninety Six Wildcats. The 2017 season has been polar opposites for the Panthers and Wildcats. Abbeville has lived up to it’s potential sporting a 8-1 overall record and a 2-0 region record, while Ninety Six is currently 3-6 in head coach Andre Woolcock’s inaugural season.
Last week, Ninety Six knocked off a very tough Liberty squad by a 24-17 score. Reid McKellar picked off two Liberty passes and Evan Keller, who recently was moved to quarterback threw for a touchdown to beat the Red Devils on Senior Night at Ninety Six. The Wildcats, who are starting their third QB of the season because of injuries, have collected two of their three wins during the month of October. Still tough defensively, the injury bug has bitten the Wildcats and fielding a fresh eleven on offense and defense, just won’t happen. The Wildcats will be playing a number of players both ways and that has been an issue for the entire season. Ninety Six is scoring 18.5 points per game while giving up 31.1 defensively for the season. Yet the Wildcats have an upset on their mind and would love nothing more than to swipe a Region Championship from their rival Panthers.
The Panthers are far from healthy either. Aside from losing then leading rusher Courtney Jackson, the Panthers have been dinged up pretty good. Trai Jones, sophomore starting offensive tackle, who has started every game this season, has a lower leg injury and is questionable for the Homecoming contest this coming Friday night. A myriad of other small, nagging injuries are starting to test the depth of this Panthers squad. As Coach Nickles would say, “We’re beat to smithereens, but that’s football”
The Panthers answered some questions coming off of the bye week last week versus Southside Christian. The defense is still able to shut down what teams do best. And the Panther offense is still able to stress opponent’s defenses on the interior and on the edge. Gabe Calhoun intercepted a Southside Christian pass and returned it 101 yards for a touchdown, only to have it called back because of a block in the back penalty. Nevertheless, that play swung momentum the Panthers direction and they never looked back, beating a really good SSC team 33-14. Quarterback Bryce Jackson had his best
rushing performance of the season vs SSC and he will prove to be a big weapon for the Panthers rushing attack as we move into the playoff portion of the season. Before we look ahead to the playoffs, there is a region championship to play for. That happens Friday night, at Hite Stadium-Dennis Botts Field. How fitting is it that the Panthers get a chance to win their 26th Region Championship, at home, on homecoming versus one of their biggest rivals. The Panthers are 41-13 all-time vs. the Wildcats. These teams are very familiar with each other as this is the 7th meeting between the two schools on the gridiron in the last three years. Tons of playoff implications are at stake in this game. A Panther win clinches a #1 seed, a Region Championship and basically gives A-Town home field throughout the playoffs.
Will injuries and the pomp and circumstance of Homecoming distract the Panthers from their task at hand? Will Ninety Six have enough left in the tank to upset the #1 ranked Panthers? We’ll find out soon enough as kickoff is set for 7:30pm Friday Night at Hite Stadium-Dennis Botts Field.
God Bless and Go Panthers!