This is the final week that Class AA blogger Adam Krohn will preview a game of the week (GOTW). Moving forward, Thursday’s blog will focus on in-depth playoff coverage.
Jefferson County Warriors at Screven County Gamecocks
When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Kelly Memorial Stadium, Sylvania
Records, rankings: Jefferson County is 9-0 overall, 6-0 in Region 4-AA and No. 6; Screven County is 8-0, 6-0 and No. 3.
Last meeting: Screven County won 49-34 in 2016.
Things to know: Jefferson County and Screven County are tied for first place and two games ahead of their closest pursuer, so the winner will be the 4-AA champion and the loser will be the No. 2 seed. This game matches the top offense against the top defense in Class AA. Jefferson County averages 52.4 points per game, second-best in any classification behind only AAAAAAA Lowndes (53.6). Screven County is allowing a state-best 4.1 points per game and has recorded six consecutive shutouts, the longest streak of its kind since Newnan in 2008. Jefferson County quarterbacks C.J. Hales (61-of-107 passing, 1,230 yards, 18 TDs) and Jaden Jenkins (65-of-94 for 1,071 and 14) both have more than 1,000 yards passing. They also are the team’s leading rushers – Jenkins with 823 yards and 11 TDs on 77 carries, and Hales with 394 yards and five TDs on 62 carries. Senior WR Ty King has 960 yards and 19 TDs receiving. Screven County’s defense is led by DEs Kashawn Robinson (61 total tackles, 13 for losses, four sacks) and Kendrick Cox (52-11-4). The Gamecocks average 313 yards rushing, led by Kim Hunter (607 yards) and QB Armani Bunbury (578 yards rushing, 1,013 passing).
Maxwell’s projection: Screven County by 4
*Game capsule courtesy of GHSFD
In Region 4-AA, the best was saved for last. Friday’s regular season finale will feature a pair of top 10, undefeated heavyweights when the Jefferson County Warriors play at the Screven County Gamecocks with a No. 1 seed in the upcoming playoffs at stake.
Ever since the two teams resumed playing in the same region in 2014 — they were also in the same region from 2006-2011 — one of them has earned the region title (Screven County in 2014 and 2016; Jefferson County in 2015). That will once again be the case. And playing at home hasn’t translated into an advantage because the visiting team has won the previous three seasons and the previous five meetings dating back to 2010.
Whether there’s a home-field advantage this year remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: the loser gets the No. 2 seed and what could be one of the most difficult paths to a state title, regardless of classification. So long as Washington County — a team Jefferson County coach JB Arnold describes as currently playing “red hot” — beats Dublin on Friday, it would play 4-AA’s No. 2 seed, according to Arnold. A win from there would mean a likely matchup with top-ranked Benedictine. If by chance comes a win against the Cadets, then it would likely be a game against No. 2 Hapeville Charter.
In other words, a win on Friday could go a long way in aiding a deep playoff run for either Warriors or Gamecocks.
For the Warriors, the first step is getting points on the board, something no team has been able to do against the Gamecocks the past two months. As was discussed on Tuesday, Screven County is riding a six-game shutout streak and hasn’t allowed a point since Sept. 1, outscoring opponents 260-0 in that time.
“There’s a couple things about Screven County’s defense,” Arnold said. “No. 1, they’re big. No. 2, they know how to run from all the right positions. Their middle linebacker Kashawn Robinson is one of the best I’ve ever seen. He’s (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) and runs sideline to sideline. And their front four, as a unit, is the best I’ve seen in a long time.”
The front four Arnold refers to includes two-way starting linemen Davien Perry (6-1, 300) and CJ Wright (6-0, 285) and defensive ends Kendrick Cox (6-4, 204) and Nick Garvin (6-1, 235). They’re the foundation of a 4-3 defense that has given opponents fits all season long.
The most points the Gamecocks have allowed this season was in their season-opening, 45-20 win over Bluffton (South Carolina). They surrendered 13 points to another South Carolina school, Wade Hampton, their next game and then the shutout streak began.
The good news for the Warriors is they’re not lacking for offense. They ride into Friday coming off a season-high in points scored with their 72-30 win over Josey. The week before, they beat Butler 62-30 and have surpassed 60 points four times. Their season season-low scoring output came in a 33-0 win over Lakeside-Evans in their second game.
“They’re extremely impressive and have a lot of moving parts,” Gamecocks coach Ron Duncan said when asked about the Jefferson County offense. “Last year we focused in on a game plan that we thought could be successful and they didn’t have a lot of answers (Screven County beat Jefferson County 49-34 in a game that featured a running clock in the fourth quarter). But now they have a lot of those answers and even more questions for us. They’re going to be hard to stop and slowing them down is going to be a challenge for our defense and our program.”
If the Warriors have any advantage, it will be depth. They don’t have any two-way starters, whereas Screven County has many. The Warriors employ a two-quarterback system out of multiple and spread formations, with senior C.J. Hales and junior Jaden Jenkins splitting reps nearly right down the middle, with one having two more than the other for the season, according to Arnold.
Both Hales and Jenkins are dual-threat quarterbacks who spread the ball out to receivers Ty King, and receiver/running backs Nikel Stone and Clin Tucker. The two-quarterback system is nothing new under Arnold at Jefferson County.
“We’ve always had it,” Arnold said. “That’s just what we do. I’d hate for the season to go in the tank because we lost a quarterback (to injury). That could happen any given Friday night.”
The two-quarterback system ties into the same philosophy of not having two-way starters.
“Offensively and defensively we play over 40-something kids,” Arnold said.
As stout as the Gamecocks’ defense has been, their offense is just as solid, averaging 44.1 points. Their offense is based out of the I-formation with plenty of option mixed in. The Gamecocks’ top playmaker is 6-foot-3, 195-pound receiver Tyquan Johnson, who’s committed to South Carolina and owns the school record for receiving yards. His signal caller is Armani Bunbury and Wright, who is part of the defensive front, doubles as the fullback.
While the offense can hold its own, Screven County will lean mostly on the defense to come out with a win. And no, the Gamecocks aren’t expecting to shut the Warriors out. In fact, Duncan says shutouts have never been the primary objective.
“I think (the shutout streak) has become something along the way,” Duncan said. “We’ve never left our starters out there, or put them back in just to preserve the shutout. We’ve put the starters in for at least one series in the third quarter to get them used to playing after halftime, but we’re not going to sacrifice the development of (the second unit) or risk injury. It’s nice, but the goal is to win, whether it’s 2-0 or 66-65.”
For Wright, the task of defense is simple.
“We have to play to our responsibilities,” he said. “We have to show up, wrap up and tackle. They’re a really good team with a lot of athletes so we have to do what we’re coached to do.”
Given the Warriors’ — and to a similar degree, the Gamecocks’ — high-scoring offense, along with Screven County’s stingy defense, it’s not clear what will give. But both teams know to expect a fight.
“I can’t really say what’s going to happen,” Wright said. “I’m not going to predict anything. We’ll just play it out and see what it is.”
“We came in last year undefeated and they beat the crap out of us and there was a running clock in the fourth quarter,” Arnold said. “I don’t know how to get ready for that. We’ve got to move the ball and lean on the defense. If we can’t move the ball, it might be over quickly.”
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