Neither the East Jackson Eagles nor the Jackson County Panthers have enjoyed ideal starts to their 2013 football seasons.
The Panthers dropped their third straight game last week on the road at Athens Christian. Meanwhile, the Eagles fell to 1-2 last Friday as they were defeated by East Hall in their homecoming game.
This Friday, the intra-county rivals will meet for the fourth time on the gridiron, with much more on the line than bragging rights.
Both teams begin their seven-game region 8-AAA slates against each other, and if either team plans on making a playoff run, it will start with a win on Friday.
“For us, it’s all about it being the first region game,” said Panther head coach Benji Harrison. “It’s a big game for both teams as far as region standings go. If we can get a win Friday night, hopefully we can put some of the things behind us that happened earlier in the season. The real season starts Friday night and obviously we’d love to start out with a win.”
“Obviously both sides would like a win, with it being a region game,” added East Jackson coach Gary Hughes. “It’s a thrilling week and we are excited to have an opportunity to go against a well-coached team.”
East Jackson leads the short series between these teams 2-1, but the Panthers dominated in last year’s contest, winning 47-7.
This season, the Eagles enter the contest with a rejuvenated offense that put up 37 points against East Hall last week.
Harrison feels that one of the keys for a Jackson County victory will be eliminating the big play.
“East Jackson is a much improved football team,” said Harrison. “Coach Hughes has done a great job with them and they’ve got some playmakers on both sides of the ball that we are going to have to keep in check if we want to win.”
The Panthers will aim to slow down the Eagles’ running game by containing DeAngelo Moore and Austin Beauchamp who combined for 258 yards last Friday.
“Offensively, they make you cover the whole field and they can run the football,” said Harrison. “At the same time they throw the ball downfield pretty well. On defense, our safeties have to stay back and not get sucked up on the run. But it comes down to getting 11 hats on the ball and tackling well.”
If the Eagles are able to put up points on offense, the contest could turn into a shootout.
The Panthers’ high-octane passing attack put up 39 points last week when Jacob Lewis connected with Xavier Harper in the end zone five times.
“Jackson County presents some real problems for you,” said Hughes. “Benji Harrison is a real good coach and offensively, really knows what he’s doing. You can see that there is a plan, and they have all the answers to what you want to do defensively.”
Hughes said the Eagles need to work on making tackles in the open field if they want to halt the Panthers’ speedy backfield.
“We need to slow those guys down a bit,” said Hughes. “They try to get you in space and they have a great screen game. The quarterback makes pretty good decisions. Really, it’s just a matter of us tackling people and being alert.”
Kickoff is Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Eagle Stadium.
While both coaches prepare their teams to maintain focus in a rivalry atmosphere, there is no question that the matchup could provide plenty of excitement.
“It’s like twin brothers playing one another,” Hughes said of the contest. “It will be an exciting atmosphere I think. These kind of games, you sometimes have to throw everything out the window and say, ‘let’s go for it boys.’ Anything is liable to happen.”