EITHER WAY, one team will be celebrating a milestone victory Friday night. The Panthers just hope it’s them.
Jackson County enters this week’s opener hoping to deliver coaching victory no. 1 to Benji Harrison in his debut. Meanwhile, Winder-Barrow aims to rid itself of a notorious 24-game losing streak that dates back to 2009.
“Yeah, it’s a big game for both teams,” Harrison said. “Obviously, I know Winder wants to get off to a good start, a fresh start this season with a lot of anticipation — so do we.”
The two teams kickoff at 7:30 p.m. at Panther Stadium. The schools haven’t played since 2007. Harrison doesn’t downplay the importance of this meeting with border rivals.
“We feel like it’s a huge game for us as far as getting this program turned around,” Harrison said. “I’m sure they feel the same way about it.”
Harrison is actually pretty familiar with his first opponent, having coached against Winder-Barrow the past two years as a member of Flowery Branch’s coaching staff. Both those schools were members of 8-AAAA in 2010 and 2011.
“I think on both sides they’re improved,” Harrison said. “I (coached against) them last year at Flowery Branch and we’ve watched a lot of film on them. I feel like they’re an improved football team in a lot of different areas.”
Winder-Barrow will look different offensively this year, employing a triple option scheme similar to what’s run at Georgia Tech.
“I think they feel good about what they’re doing on offense,” Harrison said. “The option is hard to defend, especially with a short time to prepare for it, so that’s going to be a huge challenge.”
Defensively, the Bulldoggs have switched defenses and have a new defensive coordinator.
“Defensively, they’ve got some good players,” Harrison said. “Their defensive line is a good-looking group.”
The Panthers spent the past week correcting the issues that plagued them in a 28-0 scrimmage loss to Athens Academy. Jackson County turnovers killed two red zone scoring opportunities, while the Spartans connected on three touchdown passes of over 40 yards.
Harrison said starting quarterback Kyle Daniel has progressed nicely and fixed some of the mistakes from the scrimmage, while the offensive line has looked strong. Defensively, the team is working through communication issues that led to the Spartans getting easy scores on vertical routes.
“It’s been a great two weeks,” Harrison said. “I feel like the kids have understood the areas that we had to improve in, and I think for the most part, we’ve hopefully fixed a lot of those things.”
As for Harrison, he’ll be coaching his first game following a 12-year career as an assistant coach. He’s taking the moment in stride.
“It will definitely be exciting,” he said. “At this point it feels just like another Friday night … It will be special but when the thing gets kicked off it will be coaching as usual.”
With these schools only 12 miles apart, the stands should be packed with fans from both sides.
“I’m hoping it will be a really good atmosphere and think there will be a lot people in the stands … The kids get fired up when they know that they’re being supported. I hope all our fans will come out,” Harrison said.