Inaugural Jackson Co.-East Jackson game expected to draw a crowd
Put two county schools in the same stadium — throw in the fact that they’ve never played — and you’ve got the hottest ticket in town.
A crowd between 5,000 and 7,000 is estimated Friday for Jackson County’s first-ever game against East Jackson.
“I’m looking forward to the huge crowd,” Panther linebacker Kelly Moates said. “We should all be looking forward to it.”
Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. at East Jackson, ushering in what could potentially become an intense rivalry between the county school system’s two high schools. This is also the subregion opener for both squads.
Moates said that he and his teammates have probably never played in front of more than 2,000 fans.
“It’s new,” he said. “It should be a new environment. We’re not used to big huge crowds like that.”
The Panthers will certainly be motivated but look to keep the game in perspective as well.
“We’re just going to get hyped up,” said Moates, who returned a fumble 39 yards for a touchdown last week in Jackson County’s loss to Fannin County. “We’ve got to change our attitude a little bit from last week. It’s not a big deal. It’s just another game. We got to treat it like another game.”
The game will be a little different, however, given the short geographical distance between Jackson County and East Jackson. East Jackson formed in 2007 by extracting a segment of JCCHS’s student population.
“I know quite a few of them,” said Moates said of East Jackson’s players.
At the opposite end of the familiarity spectrum is junior receiver Michael Lewis.
Lewis transferred in from a suburban Atlanta school, North Paulding, and has zero familiarity with East Jackson. But Lewis — who had a season-high 89 yards receiving last week — played in front of very large crowds while at Class AAAA North Paulding and knows what to expect.
“It’s probably going to be riled up,” said Lewis, who hauled in a 49-yard touchdown reception last week against Fannin County. “It’s probably going to be high emotions — everybody is going to be ready to see what’s going to happen.”
Jackson County coach Billy Kirk is excited for his players and certainly acknowledges the vibe around the game, but he stresses that no “quote-unquote rivalry” exists at this point.
The coach points to the obvious fact that the schools have never faced each other. In fact, Kirk wanted to make sure a few years passed after the school split so old teammates wouldn’t have to turnaround and play one another.
“You can’t have a rivalry when you haven’t even played,” Kirk said.
As for the subplots on the field, Lewis points to offensive execution as the key to Friday’s game. The Panthers managed only 208 yards of total offense in last week’s loss to Fannin County.
“We’re going to have to execute every play,” Lewis said. “Everybody is going to have do their own job. You can’t have just one person doing their job on offense. You’ve got to have everybody working together.”
On defense, Moates said the Panthers must simply play to their potential to get a start strong in subregion play.
“We’ve just got to play how we know how to play,” he said. “We know that we are athletic enough to play with everybody. Nobody is better than us, but we have to play that way. If we don’t, we’ll just get run on.”