LAST WEEK, Jackson County went toe-to-toe with the number-nine ranked team in Class AAA, North Oconee.
At one point in the third quarter, the Panthers were up 27-20. But a huge fourth quarter rally by all-state running back Kawon Bryant allowed the Titans to put up 42 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and sealed a 62-27 North Oconee victory.
While Panther coach Benji Harrison can’t exactly be happy with a loss, he was pleased with how his team played against one of the state’s top teams.
“Defensively, we really hung tough with them to keep us in the game in the first half,” said Harrison. “The offense really came alive in the third quarter and we scored four touchdowns. We just made too many mistakes in the fourth. We opened up the door, and they put it on us pretty good. It comes down to the fact that we turned the ball over. I don’t know if we got tired of hitting (Kawon) Bryant, but he ran loose on us. A player like that – the only way to slow him down is to keep him off of the field. We were not able to do that in the fourth quarter.”
The Panthers are 1-1 in region play (1-4 overall) and at least one game out of one of the top-four spots in the Region 8-AAA standings – which is where Jackson County needs to qualify for the post season.
This Friday, the Panthers travel to Franklin County to take on a 0-4 Lions team. And Harrison and his team know that the stakes are high if they hope to make the playoffs.
“It’s a huge game,” said Harrison. “We are 1-1 right now in the region and we need this win. The goal hasn’t changed. We still want to get into the playoffs and this game goes a long way as far as trying to accomplish that. Make no bones about it; our kids know this game is big.”
If Jackson County hopes to have success on offense, it will need to continue spreading the ball around to its playmakers and avoid turnovers at all costs. Quarterback Jacob Lewis has already thrown for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns this season, proving that he can get the ball into the hands of his receiving corps. The Panthers struggled with turnovers in last week’s fourth-quarter melt down, but the Franklin County defense hasn’t been quite as stingy as the Titans’ this season. The Lions’ have given up an average 30 points a game, while the Panthers have scored an average 31, barring the Jefferson game.
On defense, the Panthers will have to deal with a balanced run-pass spread offense, much like their own. Franklin County is an up-tempo team anchored by a veteran offensive line.
“Their offense line is really good,” Harrison said. “It’s as good an offensive line as Franklin has had in several years. They have one kid committed to Georgia Tech (Will Bryan) and another that I think is just as good. They are very physical up front and like to run the football and every once in a while they throw in a play action pass. We have to stop the run, but we have to be aware and not get beat over the top.”
The Panthers narrowly edged Franklin County last season in a 32-29 road-win. This year, Jackson County will play host to the Lions in a homecoming “clash of cats” on Friday, at 7:30 p.m.
“I think we’ve had a good week of preparation and I think we’ll play well,” added Harrison.