A SCHEDULING quirk has allowed Jackson County’s football team to play its first five games inside the city limits of Jefferson.
In fact, the Panthers’ (3-2, 1-1) only bus trip so far has been a one-mile ride to face cross-town rival Jefferson.
That changes this weekend as four of Jackson County’s next five games are away from Panther Stadium.
Jackson County faces its first true road test Friday when it travels to Carnesville to take on Franklin County (1-3, 0-1) in another Region 8-AAA contest.
Panther coach Benji Harrison said playing away from home won’t make that big of a difference.
“I really don’t think it’s a big deal,” he said. “I really don’t. I think because we have a lot of seniors, they know how to handle that kind of thing.”
Jackson County will face a Franklin County squad that’s coming off a 45-19 loss to Hart County.
The Lions are off to a 1-3 start under coach Tommy Welsh after a 6-5 campaign last year.
Welsh, in his fifth year at Franklin County, is a 21-year head coaching veteran with 129 coaching victories to his credit.
Harrison said he’s known Welsh for a while and knows the kind of coach he is.
“He’s a guy who’s not going to do something to beat himself,” he said. “He’s going to be really fundamentally sound and try to play good defense and protect the ball on offense.”
Offensively, the Lions operate out of the I-formation and set up their play-action passing game with a strong running attack. Harrison is wary of Lion quarterback Ben Cheek.
“He’s as good of a thrower as I think we’ve seen all year,” Harrison said.
Defensively, the Lions are very multiple but base out of a four-man front. Harrison said Franklin County’s defensive line and outside linebackers are both very good.
“They’re just a real sound football team,” Harrison said.
This will be a homecoming of sorts for Harrison. He spent six seasons there as an assistant coach under former head coach Danny Durham.
“I know a lot of people there,” Harrison said. “It will be the first time I’ve been back there to play. It will be fun … It will be kind of odd being on the other sideline but we’re looking forward to it.”
More than anything, this is a crucial Region 8-AAA game for Jackson County, which is coming off a 35-6 loss to North Oconee.
Winning this contest would put the Panthers back over .500 in region play and go a long way in helping Jackson County reach its goals.
“We want to get back to 2-1 and control our destiny,” Harrison said. “We never want to get into a situation where we have to rely on someone else to beat someone else. This goes a long way as far as maintaining that.”
Jackson County at Franklin County
•When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
•Where: Ed Bryant Stadium, Franklin County
•Last year: N/A
•Records: Franklin County 1-3, 0-1; Jackson County 3-2, 1-1
•Franklin County’s coach: Tommy Welch (21-24 at Franklin County, fifth season; 129-93-1 overall, 21st season)
•Jackson County’s coach: Benji Harrison (3-2 at Jackson County, first year)
•Last week: Hart County 45, Franklin County 19; North Oconee 35, Jackson County 6
•Series: Franklin County leads 9-1
•What else: This is the first meeting between these schools since 2009. Franklin County won that meeting 42-7 ... Jackson County’s lone win in this series came in 2001 (21-14) ... Franklin County suffered 10 consecutive non-winning seasons before going 6-5 last year ... Jackson County head coach Benji Harrison was an assistant coach at Franklin County ... This is Jackson County’s first game outside Jackson County this season. Four of the Panthers’ first five games were at home. The other was at Jefferson, which was a one-mile trip for the Panthers. Four of Jackson County’s next five games are on the road.
•What the coach is saying: “What they feel good about is getting in the I (formation), running the ball and play action passing off it,” Jackson County coach Benji Harrison said of Franklin County’s offensive scheme.