COMING off a 54-14 loss to a top-five state-ranked Hart County team, the Jackson County Panthers entered this week of practice with the knowledge that the stakes are high.
If the Panthers hope to make the state playoffs, they will almost certainly need to get in the win column when they host Oconee County this Friday.
With Hart County, Elbert County and North Oconee seemingly locking up the first three playoff berths from region 8-AAA, a three-way battle has emerged for the fourth and final spot. Jackson County, Morgan County and Oconee are still in contention, but that could change after this week.
While nothing is concrete, a win over Oconee County would put the Panthers at 3-2 in region play and in relative control of their own destiny. Another win over Morgan County would essentially seal the deal for the Panthers, but they will first have to get past a threatening Warrior team.
“I’ve told the kids all week, that it’s a big game,” said Panther coach Benji Harrison. “The goal at the beginning of the year was to make the playoffs, and in order to do that, this is a game we have to have. We have to play with a lot of urgency and we have to prepare that way as well. You can’t hide the fact that this is a huge game for our team, so I think they’ll be ready.”
Oconee County (1-6) has struggled on offense through its early season games, but put up 45 points on Franklin County last week. Although the Panthers are used to seeing a spread offense, Harrison says it is vital that his team will have to play sound defense for four quarters and prevent big plays.
“Offensively, they are spread, so that’s always scary,” Harrison said. “When you play a spread team, there’s always a chance you can stop them most of the time. But if they get loose on you or hit a couple balls over the top, you will have yourself in a mess.”
Harrison feels that establishing a run game against a large Warrior defensive front will be imperative for Jackson County’s offensive attack.
“I think their defensive line is their strong point,” said Harrison. “They have some big strong guys who can play the run well. Obviously we want to stay as balanced as we can. We want to get our run game going. We weren’t able to do that the other night (against Hart County). Obviously, when you can’t run the ball, that makes it tough to pass.”
If the Panthers can execute their offensive plan, Harrison believes his squad will be able to put some points on the board.
Jackson County hosts the Warriors on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Panther Stadium.