Jason Fitzgerald tossed his visor in the air during the BlueCross BlueShield high school football jamboree Thursday, but it wasn't because Sale Creek didn't perform well in its final preseason tuneup against another opponent.
In the first night of the three-day exhibition at Finley Stadium, the Panthers opened against reigning state champion Tyner and pleased their new head coach as they compiled a 13-play, 55-yard series — all on the ground — that reached the 15-yard line before ending with a missed field-goal attempt. Even without starting running back Grayson Cosper, Sale Creek showcased multiple options in a rushing attack expected to be led by quarterback Khari Escobar along with Michael Gilley, Ridge Morgan and Alex Wolgast.
Fitzgerald took over at Sale Creek in February after a successful tenure at Meigs County that included deep postseason runs, and he has challenged the Panthers to create a lasting legacy on the field this season. With the Panthers 0-5 to date in the postseason, winning a playoff game would certainly contribute to that effort.
"The biggest thing with this group is they just have to believe," said Fitzgerald, whose Panthers' quarter with the Rams finished scoreless. "We have some good kids, and they have a lot of support. They have to believe they can play and win. We have had a good preseason, and now that is over. We have to go prove it in week one against Midway."
In a change from past jamborees, the final action of the first night was a full scrimmage instead of a single quarter, and Ringgold's aerial attack stole the show during the Tigers' 28-7 victory over Soddy-Daisy.
Garrett Edgar dropped in a dime deep down the right sideline to a streaking Kishaun Taylor for a 61-yard touchdown and a 21-0 lead with 3:30 left in the third quarter. It was Edgar's third touchdown pass of the scrimmage and second to Taylor, who earlier made a nice leaping catch on the right sideline before cutting back to midfield on his way to a 31-yard score.
Hudson Moss also stood out for the Ringgold receivers, haulding in a 16-yard touchdown pass from Edgar in the right side of the end zone and turning a screen pass from backup quarterback Rhett Blankenship into a 50-yard score in the fourth quarter.
"This is the first time we have ever played in this type of environment in a stadium this big," said Austin Crisp, who is in his first season leading the Georgia program. "This was a great night to energize our guys and do something special for them. Once we loosened up, Garrett looked really good. We saw him mature a lot right there. Hopefully by putting our guys in a pressure situation this week, we can carry it over to a big game against Heritage next week."
Meanwhile, after a breakout junior season in 2022 with 980 receiving yards and nine scores, 6-foot-5 Signal Mountain receiver Blake Wolfard looks like he could shatter those marks this season. Wolfard had 56 receiving yards on five catches in one series against Tyner, which included hauling in a throw from Cash Keene for the quarter's lone score on an 18-yard jump ball touchdown catch at the front right pylon.
Signal Mountain was led defensively by linebacker Garrett Wilson, who shed a block on the outside to make a big run stop, while Josh Thompson broke up two passes as part of a defensive line that also got a strong showing from Max Hilke.
Tyner, now in TSSAA Class 3A, was back at Finley for the first time since winning the Class 2A BlueCross Bowl there last December for the program's first state championship in a quarter-century.
The Rams had a pair of promising first series against Sale Creek and Signal Mountain but no points to show for either one.
Jamarie Ballard completed his first three throws, with two going for 12-yard gains to 6-3 freshman Jur'won Hubbard. However, a mishandled snap ended the drive in enemy territory as Sale Creek's Gilley recovered the fumble.
The Rams then had a 13-play series against Signal Mountain end 9 yards from the end zone as Thompson swatted the pass away. Ballard had 30 yards on the ground on four carries on the 61-yard drive.
"We had 18 guys who graduated last year, and four to five of those guys were very vocal leaders," said Tyner first-year head coach Christian Mainor, who was the team's offensive coordinator last season. "Right now we need to find some guys that want to lead us. Some guys who want to steer the ship. Right now our coaches are trying to do that. Once we get that figured out, we will be fine because we have some really good football players."
Signal Mountain's junior varsity team won the third jamboree quarter of the night, 7-0 over Sale Creek's JV as Ben Dotson caught a 59-yard touchdown pass from Trevor Curtis.
Contact Patrick MacCoon at firstname.lastname@example.org.