Jackson County came up just short of pulling off a miraculous comeback in its regular-season finale Friday, Nov. 5, but, thanks to some help, the Panthers will be playing at least one more week.
The Panthers nearly erased a three-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter at Apalachee, but an interception with 1:34 remaining helped the Wildcats escape with a 34-28 victory and clinch the No. 2 playoff seed in GHSA Region 8-AAAAA. Still, though, the Panthers (5-5, 3-4 region) had more cause to celebrate in the post-game huddle after learning that Eastside had defeated Greenbrier, thereby eliminating the Wolfpack and slotting Jackson County in as the No. 4 seed.
It’s the first time the Panthers have reached the postseason since 2017 and it’ll be their first trip to the state playoffs in three seasons under Rich McWhorter. They’ll travel to Region 6 champion Villa Rica next week for their first-round matchup.
Jackson County entered Friday’s game with a chance to finish third in the region with a win, and it went toe-to-toe with Apalachee for the first two and a half quarters, largely on the back of senior running back Tre Ransom, who rushed for 125 yards on 24 carries and scored three touchdowns.
Ransom’s third score of the night, a 21-yarder around the left end on a fourth down-and-3 play with 9:39 left in the game, brought the Panthers back to within 13 points after Apalachee had extended its lead to 20 points on a blocked punt that was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.
Jackson County then recovered an onside kick at the Apalachee 44 and needed just three plays to find the end zone again, as Connor Bejin teamed up with Anthony Finley for a 9-yard touchdown pass to make it 34-28 with 8:41 remaining.
The Wildcats recovered the ensuing onside kick and chewed up nearly six minutes of clock while moving the ball into the Jackson County red zone. But a false-start penalty caused that drive to stall, and Brody Ham’s 37-yard field goal try came up short, giving the Panthers one last crack at the comeback with 2:53 to play.
Jackson County got as close as the Apalachee 35 with the aid of a pass interference penalty, but was then backed up near midfield on an offensive hold. On the next play, Ethan Middlebrooks picked off Bejin’s errant pass at the 30 and returned it 37 yards to the Panther 33 with 1:34 to go, and the Wildcats were able to kneel down and run out the clock from there.
Colby Sikes had 129 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns to lead Apalachee (5-5, 5-2), while Jeff Roberts added 86 yards on 18 carries and a pair of rushing touchdowns.
J 7 0 7 14 — 28
A 7 7 20 0 — 34
A—Colby Sikes 6 run (Brody Ham kick)
J—Trey Ransom 3 run (Brice Rogers kick)
A—Jeff Roberts 3 run (Ham kick)
A—Roberts 9 run (kick blocked)
J—Ransom 6 run (Rogers kick)
A—Sikes 26 run (Ham kick)
A—Kaiden Martin recovered blocked punt (Ham kick)
J—Ransom 21 run (Rogers kick)
J—Anthony Finley 9 pass from Connor Bejin (Rogers kick)