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SEPTEMBER 24, 2003


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The Road Gets Tougher
Tigers Must Regroup Quickly To Face No. 1 Lincoln Co.
It shouldn’t take Commerce long to get over its four-touchdown loss to Morgan County this past Friday night.
It can’t afford not to.
With top-ranked Lincoln County licking its chops this week, Commerce must quickly shift attention to what should be its most daunting matchup of the season.
“We play tough people to find out about ourselves and we found out Friday that we’ve still got a lot of work to do and we don’t have much time to do it,” Tiger head coach Steve Savage said.
Coming off sub-par 6-6 and 8-5 seasons the past two years, Lincoln County appears to have returned to the form that’s made it one of the most storied football programs in Georgia, averaging 40 points a game this season in jumping out to a 4-0 start.
Lincoln County took over the top spot in Class A last weekend when it ran roughshod over Athens Christian 63-0 and maintained that ranking this past weekend when it easily thumped defending 8-A champion Athens Academy 35-7.
The matchup will mark the second consecutive week that the Tigers have faced a ranked team as Commerce looks to avoid dropping back-to-back games for the first time since 2001. Savage said his players can’t let their 35-7 loss to Morgan County rattle them.
“If you expect to go through a year unbeaten, then you’ll be disappointed a lot of times,” he said.
If there is a silver-lining to Commerce’s lopsided loss, it’s that it might not be as costly as it could have been.
Quarterback Josh Haynes left the game in the first quarter against Morgan County with what was thought to be a broken collar bone. However, X-Rays revealed that there was no fracture and Savage didn’t rule out Haynes playing this Friday night.
The Tigers will likely need all the help they can get on the offensive side of the ball against a Lincoln County defense that’s giving up just over three points a ball game.
The Red Devils have already posted two shutouts this year and have yet to give up 10 points in a game.
Offensively, Lincoln County is averaging nearly 369 yards of total offense a contest, led by junior running back Gavin Williams (39 car., 285 yards) and senior quarterback Travis Clarke (23-46, 560 yds., 3 TD, 1 INT.)
“They have a 6’3” quarterback who can sling it and a tailback who’s 6’2” or 6’3” who can run like a deer and they have a big fullback,” Savage said. “They like to open it up. They like to do a lot of things offensively.”
Not only is Commerce facing the top-rated team in Class A, it’s squaring off against one that’s likely not in the best of moods to see the Tigers.
There have been few teams that have given Lincoln County as much grief the past three seasons as Commerce has in winning four straight times over that stretch.
The well-documented streak started with Casey Gary’s 31-yard field goal in 2000 which gave Commerce a 16-15 regular season win, followed two months later by Monté Williams’ fourth-quarter jaunts in the Georgia Dome which lifted the Tigers past Lincoln in a 17-14 thriller. Thirteen unanswered points in Lincolnton the trick again the next year as Commerce pulled out a 13-12 nail-bitter in 2001.
It was somewhat ironic that the Red Devils came to Tigertown last year seeking Larry Campbell’s record-setting 347th win against Commerce given the schools’ recent history with each other.
Not only did the Tigers deny history, they ran the Red Devils out of the stadium in the process, rolling up 262 rushing yards in a 28-6 rout.
The Red Devils players apparently are eagerly seeking to atone for the last four meetings. Lincoln County has already gotten even with one rival this year, downing 7-AA power Washington-Wilkes 21-8 and are looking to settle the score with another.
“We want it bad,” Lincoln County defensive end Josh Beard told the Augusta Chronicle this week. “We’re ready for them (Commerce). They’ve beaten us three years in a row and we want them just as bad as we wanted Washington-Wilkes. You know how that is.”


Big plays hurt
Leopards give up big plays in loss
Looking at the stats from Friday’s game, it’s hard to understand that Banks County lost 41-21 to Wesleyan.
The Leopards put up 435 yards of total offense, including a rare 265 yards and three touchdowns for the Banks air game. And the Leopard defense only allowed six first downs, forcing punts on half of Wesleyan’s possessions in the first half.
But it was the big plays that crippled the Leopards — a 101-yard interception return for a touchdown, a 54-yard punt return for a touchdown, a 65-yard air strike for the score and three long touchdowns runs of an average of 45 yards each.
“We played well,” coach Greg Moore said. “The big plays just killed us.”
The Leopards proved Friday that their offense has improved vastly over last season. In just three games, Banks has already scored 85 points to surpass last year’s point total (81).
The Leopards have already rushed for more than half as many yards as last season and are only 150 yards away from matching last season’s total passing yardage.
“We executed our offense well,” Moore said. “We gave up a few big plays on defense and special teams and those are things we are working on. But we’re throwing the ball pretty well.”
Banks took possession first Friday and was able to get the ball to near midfield. The Leopards tried a fake-punt pass to Tim Brown. But Brown appeared to be held by a defensive player and create break out to get to the pass.
The Wolves responded and three plays later, quick tailback Chad Hall broke lose for a 37 yard scoring run to go ahead 7-0.
On Banks’ second drive, penalties put the Leopards in a fourth-and-long situation. They couldn’t convert, giving the Wolves the ball.
But as was the case most of the night, Wesleyan had trouble moving the ball when they couldn’t get Hall to break a long one, punting the ball back to Banks County.
The Leopards eased their way down the field, moving inside the 15 yard line. But Hall cut across and picked off Tyson Baxter’s pass in the endzone and ran it 101 yards for the score.
The Leopards were intercepted again on their next possession before forcing the Wolves to punt once more.
Banks stalled on offense this time and punted back to Wesleyan. The Wolves took the punt and ran it 54 yards for the score to go ahead 21-0.
The Leopards got on the board on their next play. Baxter connected with Tim Brown on the left side for a 73-yard touchdown pass. Chase Martin’s PAT cut the game to 21-7.
Three plays later, a Wesleyan wideout pushed his way above a Leopard defender for a 65-yard air strike to score. Seth McCoy blocked the PAT kick to set the score at 27-7 going into the half.
Wesleyan’s first drive in the second half ended in a missed field goal. The Leopards then drove to inside the 25 before failing to convert on a fourth-and-four situation.
Three plays later, Hall broke another long one, taking the ball 69 yards to pay dirt and a 33-7 lead.
Banks turned the ball over on downs before Wesleyan scored its final touchdown. Hall again ran the ball in from 25 yards out to go ahead 41-7.
The Leopards responded with an eight-play, 79-yard drive capped off with a 17-yard pass to Seth Brownlee for the score. Banks missed the PAT and fell behind 41-13.
The Wolves went three and out before punting and setting up another Leopard score late in the game.
With four seconds remaining, Jimmy Bryant caught a 30-yard touchdown pass. On the PAT, Baxter pitched the ball to Alex Cruce from the holder’s position. Cruce found Bryant in the endzone for a two-point conversion that set the score at its final, 41-21.
“Our guys fought hard and never gave up,” Moore said.
The Leopards were penalized 11 times for 125 yards in the contest.


Lady Dragons in a groove
The Jefferson slow-pitch softball team continued to impress last week, earning three wins against rival competition from Jackson County, improving their record to 16-4.
Wins against Commerce and Jackson County highlighted the week for the Lady Dragons, with timely hitting and run production paving the way to victory in the games.
Thursday, in just 29 minutes, the Lady Dragons upended Jackson County 18-0 in three innings. The game was the first regular season meeting between the two schools.
Three Jefferson batters were perfect from the plate against the Lady Panthers, Breanna Bray, Allison Velhuis, Kate Stringer and Brooke Coley all recorded three hits apiece and scored three times on the day.
Velhuis, Bray and Amanda Ledbetter drove in three runs each while Coley and Kristina Friedman (2 RBIs), and Tiffany Shumake, Kenyotta Beasley and Brittany Caudell all drove in runs. Taryn Gurley added a .500 day at the plate, scoring twice and Savannah Porter also recorded three runs.
On the mound, Shumake pitched a solid game, giving up just one hit on the day.
Tuesday’s doubleheader affair with Commerce was a similar romp by the Lady Dragons who swept the afternoon’s action 10-3 and 9-2. The game dropped the Lady Tigers to 0-2 in area play while Jefferson remained unbeaten. Next up the Lady Dragons take on Rockdale County on Thursday followed by a rematch at Jackson County next Tuesday.


Last year’s MCHS-Jefferson Co. game still remembered for its dramatic finish
Sean Walker is Jefferson County’s most visible player as a 6’0” 160-lb. Division I prospect at wide receiver who snagged 28 catches for 471 yards last year.
But for all his credentials, he’ll have another distinction this week as Madison County treks to Louisville for Friday night’s matchup with the Region 3-AAA Warriors.
“He’s the guy who caught that miracle pass last year .... and then missed the extra point,” Jefferson County head coach J.B. Arnold said with a laugh when asked about his star wide receiver.
Arnold was referring to the dramatic curtain finish of last year’s Raiders-Warrior matchup when Walker looked to produce his own version of “The Music City Miracle” and wound up meeting a Bill Buckner-like end.
With no time left on the clock and Madison County up 14-7, Walker snagged Warrior quarterback Chris Watkins’ 57-yard ‘Hail-Mary’ pass for a touchdown but missed the game-tying extra point, allowing the Raiders to pull off a Houdini-like escape act.
A year removed, Arnold can chuckle now, but the final moments last year proved to be cathartic for Madison County and tragic for Jefferson County.
Walker’s first PAT attempt actually split the uprights to knot the game at 14, but was negated by a procedure penalty.
Forced to rekick from the seven and a half yardline, Walkers’ second attempt sliced and sailed wide right and the Raiders stormed off the field in celebration while several distraught Jefferson County players sank to the Red Raider Field turf.
One can now only wonder what kind of theatrics Friday’s rematch will have in store.
Jefferson County comes into this year’s game in the same position as it did last year at 0-3 with hard fought losses to AAAA schools Burke County (13-6) and Baldwin (9-0) and AAA Perry (29-12).
Madison County head coach Tom Hybl warns that the Warriors are a much better team than their record indicates.
“They are a very, very good high school defensive team,” he said. “They have size and speed everywhere. The struggled offensively against their opponents so far this year, but they lost them all close. We won’t be able to move the ball much on them defensively. They have a great wide receiver (Walker). They run the split back veer, but like Monroe, they’ve had a week off to prepare for us. There’s no telling what they’ll run on us.”
Arnold describes his outfit that’s experiencing growing pains, especially on offense where it starts a talented, but raw freshman quarterback, Dennis Thomas.
“He’ll be good by the time it’s over with,” he said. “He’s just made some freshman mistakes ... We’re really young right now but we’ve got some talent on the offensive side of the ball.”
The coach said his defense is a bit more battle-tested, anchored by the team’s top two tacklers Charles Oliphant, a linebacker, and Rodney Lane, a defensive end.
The Warriors are giving up a respectable 14.7 points a game this year.
“We’re a little more experienced on the defensive side of the ball,” he said. “We’re decent. We’ve played some pretty tough teams.”
Arnold said they’d be seening another one of those tough teams Friday night in Madison County.
“Coach Hybl does a great job of coaching them up there,” he said. “They do some good things offensively. We’re going to have some long practices this week to prepare for them.”


Winless Panthers still causing plenty of headaches
Region title contender Salem presents plenty of obstacles; Seminoles coach says he’s weary of upset on Friday
If you listen to rumors circulating around Region 8-AAAA this season, its fare to say that Jackson County’s 0-3 record is not fooling most observers.
“I think they’re probably the most improved team that we’ve seen this year,” Salem head coach Frank Caputo said Tuesday.
And Caputo should know, the Seminoles head man has scouted the Panthers in preparation of this Friday’s game at Panther Stadium.
“I think coach (Brent) Brock has done a fine job there with that team,” Caputo explained. “They’re battling every time. I think they’ve got a fine football team. If we take them for granted, it’ll come back to bite us. We’ll need to prepare for these guys like it’s a national championship.”
Come Friday, the Seminoles (2-1) will get a chance to see just how much the Panthers have improved from a season ago when they fell 21-0 in Conyers.
In that game, one that was closer than the final score indicated, the vaunted Seminole ground attack was key. Such will be the case once again this year, but balancing the play-calling of his Wing-T offense will be a goal, Caputo admitted.
“We need to mix it up better. We’re going to do what we do and that’s run the ball. But we know that we have to be able to throw the ball better,” said Caputo. “I’m not saying that we’ll open it up and sling it all over the place, but we’ll do some throwing.”
On the Jackson County side of things the Panthers are still optimistic about the progress they have made under second-year head coach Brent Brock.
Last week’s defeat at Eastside was yet another example of how far the squad has progressed. Despite giving up an early lead to the Eagles, the Panthers fought back and came to within a field goal of tying things up in the final minutes of the game. This, against a team that beat them by some 40 points a year ago.
“We didn’t start the game like we wanted but you’ve got to give credit to our kids, they really fought back and we kind of got in a rhythm there in the second half.”
As for the Seminoles, Brock stated that he anticipates a squad similar to the surprising region leader Winder-Barrow (4-0) whom the Panthers played close in their opening game of the season.
“They’re pretty similar to Winder, they run the wing-T with some misdirection and on defense they really have some stout athletes...in my opinion they’re pretty much a mirror of Winder.”
Ironically enough, the Bulldoggs are the only team to defeat the Seminoles thus far this season.
“In my opinion they were one of the dark horses (to win the region) coming into the season,” Brock said of Salem, who were picked to finish third in 8-AAAA in the preseason. “They’re well coached, well conditioned and well prepared, coach Caputo has done a great job over there.”
Although last week’s defeat was the 17th consecutive loss for Jackson County, a streak that goes back to Oct. of 2001, Caputo is not letting his team take Friday’s host lightly.
“I think that their quarterback is good. They have improved and they have a bunch of hard-nosed-tough kids who are going to battle us to the very end. It’s kind of frightening for us to travel that far to play them,” Caputo said. “Someone’s going to lose to them. I just hope that it’s next week and not this week.
“They look stronger than they were last year. If we go there with the idea of this being the same old Jackson County, it’ll be a long night. We need to go there with a great attitude, emotionally, mentally and physically ready to play or it’ll be sour grapes for us.”

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