Every Thursday, Class AA blogger Adam Krohn will preview a game of the week (GOTW).
Benedictine Cadets at Swainsboro Tigers
When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Tiger Field, Swainsboro
Records, rankings: Benedictine is 3-0 overall, 0-0 in Region 2-AA and No. 1; Swainsboro is 3-0, 0-0 and unranked.
Last meeting: Benedictine won 47-8 in 2016.
Things to know: This is the region opener for both teams. Benedictine and Swainsboro are two of five undefeated teams in 2-AA, but the computer Maxwell Ratings have them ranked as the two best, meaning this game ultimately could determine the region champion. Bacon County, Toombs County and Jeff Davis also are undefeated heading into region play. Benedictine has run for at least 300 yards in all three of its games, including 340 in a 48-7 victory over Southeast Bulloch last week. The leader is Travis Blackshear, who has rushed for 350 yards and three touchdowns this season and caught a 36-yard TD pass last week. QB Nick Iannone passes for about 150 yards per game and has thrown for seven TDs. Benedictine, the defending state champion, has won 18 consecutive games and 26 straight regular-season games. Swainsboro gets about 80 percent of its offense from the running game. Jayln Williams is the workhorse. He had 218 yards against Jackson in the opener and 166 and three TDs in a 26-7 victory over Emanuel County Institute on Aug. 25. Swainsboro has won seven of its last eight regular-season games since starting 0-5 in 2016.
Maxwell’s projection: Benedictine by 34
*Game capsule courtesy of GHSFD
For the second time in as many years, Southeast Georgia was hit with a major storm smack in the middle of football season. Last year it was Hurricane Matthew. This year it was Tropical Storm Irma, and it came on the heels of a Region 2-AA matchup between two unbeatens — the No. 1 Benedictine Cadets and Swainsboro Tigers. The storm shut both schools down and prevented them from practicing until Wednesday, though it wasn’t a full practice for either school as some players remained displaced.
The Tigers and Cadets are expected to have their first full practice on Thursday, leaving them little time to prepare for a game with such huge implications in the region standings. As noted in the capsule above, the winner of this game could very well end up as the 2-AA champion.
Cadets coach Danny Britt said the team will draw from last year’s experience as it prepares for Friday’s road game.
“We’ve been here before and we know what it takes,” Britt said. “We’ll focus in on the short time we have and be ready.”
If last season is any indication, the Tigers could be in trouble. The Cadets were displaced by Matthew for an entire week and couldn’t practice until days before their key region game against Toombs County. They won 42-13 on their way to a 15-0 season and their second title in three seasons. A month before the Toombs County game, the Cadets beat Swainsboro 47-8.
While the Cadets have continued to bulldoze through the competition thus far, outscoring Glynn Academy, St. Pius X and Southeast Bulloch 122-28, the Tigers are holding their own too. Swainsboro is 3-0 for the first time since 2010, which was the Tigers’ last winning season. They appear to be on the rise with the return of coach Scott Roberts, who coached the team in the ’08 and ’09 seasons, guiding them to a 10-2 record and their last playoff victory in ’09.
After bouncing around as an assistant between Washington County, Tift County and Bainbridge, Roberts returned to coach the Tigers in March. He refuses to take credit for the turnaround, which began last season when the Tigers won four of their last five regular season games and put up a fight in a first-round playoff loss to No. 8 Jefferson County, 29-22.
“A lot of (the turnaround) is from playing young last year and getting good game experience,” Roberts said. “They’ve grown up a lot and the assistants here have done a tremendous job of coaching them up every week. We couldn’t be more thrilled.”
The Tigers’ three wins have come against Jackson (23-21), Emanuel County Institute (26-7) and Dublin (28-18). While 3-0 is no doubt an impressive start, Benedictine presents their stiffest challenge yet. The Cadets won by 39 last year in their first-ever meeting and are projected to win by 34 this year.
“This game is a measuring stick,” Roberts said. “Coach Britt does a great job with that program and that’s what we’re trying to be. We’re trying to develop a championship program and you have to win games like this. …They know how to win and they have great players. They’re not vulnerable at any spots. If it’s going to be a game, and if we’re going to have a chance, we have to make plays. We don’t have to play perfect, but our playmakers have to make more plays than theirs.”
Swainsboro’s top offensive playmaker is senior running back Jalyn Williams, who has nearly 600 rushing yards and six touchdowns. The Tigers are a run-heavy team out of what Roberts calls the “Multiple I (formation).” When they throw the ball, they spread it out. Last week against Dublin, quarterback Jacolby Gibbons completed 10 of this 13 passes to seven different receivers.
Gibbons, a junior, was making his first start of the season over sophomore Kade Youmans, who started the first two games. Gibbons has been named the starter against Benedictine and Roberts said the team is better off for the quarterback competition.
“They’ve done a great job and competition brings out the best in everyone,” Roberts said. “They’ve been very supportive of each other and they know they’ve got to get better and that’s what they’re trying to do.”
For the Cadets, the question heading into the season was how they’d respond to losing eight of 11 starters on each side of the ball. The answer has been that they’ve reloaded and haven’t missed a beat.
“I felt like our kids have prepared well this offseason,” Britt said. “They’re following in the footsteps of the players we lost, and we lost a lot of kids. But they’ve waited their turn and they’re anxious to show what they can do.”
One of the returning starters is quarterback Nick Iannone, who is in his third season starting behind center. He along with running backs Travis Blackshear, Terrick Smalls and receiver Rico Powers lead the offense, which runs out of a spread Wing-T and is manned by a new line that has only one returning starter.
Swainsboro is a different team since the Cadets played them a year ago and with the weather throwing off this week’s practice schedule, this year’s matchup could be much different as well.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Britt said. “I think it will be a challenge and I think it will be close.”
“I expect it to be a hard-hitting, competitive game,” Roberts said. “I expect our kids to compete like crazy.”