Area Sports...

NOVEMBER 19, 2003

The Finishing Touches
CHS Goes Into Playoffs With
20-Point Win Over Social Circle
With the chance to put an exclamation point on its recently-won region title being the only motivation at stake, Commerce made a speedy Social Circle outfit look rather pedestrian in a 20-point romp Friday night.
The Tigers scored on their first four offensive possessions and then got a 40-yard return from Casha Daniels off a botched Red Skins punt in a 34-14 win.
Since the contest had no bearing on the region standings, it gave the Tigers a chance to polish their game before the state playoffs.
“We came out and took care of some things,” Commerce head coach Steve Savage said. “We were going to run outside veer, we were going to run inside veer and we were going to run midline and we did that. And we were able to do a couple things defensively. For the most part, I thought we played well.”
The Tigers spent the majority of an anticlimactic second half savoring the culmination of an eight-win regular season while the Red Skins notched meaningless yardage and scores in the third and fourth quarters.
The Tigers’ 20-point win over Social Circle marked the fifth time this year that Commerce has beaten an 8-A foe by that margin or more in finishing unbeaten in the region for the fourth time in the last seven seasons.
On their senior night, Dennis Wilder and Josh Haynes added to two years of highlights in the Tigers’ starting backfield, totaling 238 rushing yards and accounting for Commerce’s first three touchdowns.
Wilder finished the night with 150 yards on just 11 carries while Haynes rushed for 88 yards.
It was Haynes putting Commerce on the board first with an eight-yard touchdown run in the first quarter while Wilder added scores in the first and second quarters from six yards out. Wilder’s back up Tristan Daniels punched the ball in with two minutes left in the first half and Commerce led 27-0 at intermission.
The Tigers first half story was one of both offensive and defensive efficiency.
Commerce moved the ball with ease, rolling up nearly 300 yards and12 first downs in the first and second quarter. The Tigers didn’t have to call on C. Daniels to punt the entire game.
On the other side of the ball, the Tigers held Social Circle’s speedy offense to just 26 rushing yards and two first downs in the first half.
“I thought we played pretty well in the first half,” Savage said. “Offensivley, we played pretty good — we had one turnover. Defensively, we didn’t allow them to do anything.”
While the first two quarters were text book football, the third quarter, however, was simply bizarre.
Commerce didn’t run an offensive play for the entire span of the period but managed to score in an unconventional manner.
Josh Calloway’s punt with eight minutes left in the quarter struck the back of a Red Skin upback, opening the door for C. Daniels — ironically a punter also — to scoop the ball and score on the special teams’ mishap.
The senior tightend/linebacker’s first varsity touchdown put Commerce up 34-0 with 7:46 left in the third quarter.
“I know he was excited and his teammates were excited for him,” Savage said.
The Red Skins’ Brian McClug broke Commerce’s shutout hopes late the quarter though with a six-yard touchdown run.
There would be no running clock in the fourth quarter with the mercy rule with Social Circle keeping the margin under 30 points, holding the Tigers’ off the scoreboard and scoring again with 1:16 left in the game.


Lit ‘em up
Banks County puts up strong senior night showing in season finale
Going into Friday’s game, the Banks County Leopards were chanting one thing — “Christmas tree.”
And by that, they meant “Light ‘em up like a Christmas tree.” After the Leopards walked to a 27-0 victory over Union County, it was evident they did just that.
“We were having fun and I thought we played real well,” coach Greg Moore said. “This year was the funnest we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
The win was Banks’ final game and set the team’s season record at 4-6. It was also the last game for 17 Leopard seniors.
“It was tough after the game,” Moore said. “I’m going to really miss these kids. This was a special group of seniors. They were a fun crowd.”
Banks did all of its damage in the first half, scoring all 27 points in the opening 24 minutes. Moore put mostly his second team offense in for the entire second half of the game.
The Leopards drove 68 yards on their opening possession to score. Several solid runs from senior fullback Alex Cruce put Banks in the redzone.
Cruce scored to cap the drive from five yards out. On the PAT attempt, the Leopard line set up off the ball and Seth Brownlee snapped it sideways to Tyson Baxter, who hit a wide open Jimmy Bryant for the two point conversion. Banks went up 8-0 with 7:49 left.
The defense forced Union County to three and out to get back control of the ball. Banks fumbled on its first play, the Leopards’ only turnover of the game.
But Banks’ defense was able to hold the Panthers on a fourth-down attempt to take back control of the ball.
Three plays later, the Leopards scored again. Cruce set up the score with a 40-yard run down to the 20 yard line. He ran the ball in from 18 yards out for his second touchdown.
Senior Ben Vang hit the PAT to go ahead 15-0 with only 49 seconds left in the first quarter.
Banks’ defense held again and the Leopards got the ball back at the beginning of the second quarter.
On a first and 20 play after a holding penalty, Baxter passed to Bryant who pitched the ball back to Brownlee. Brownlee got all the way to Union’s 42 yard line before being run out of bounds.
Two plays later, Banks was set up in a third down and 17 situation. Baxter threw the ball to Bryant, who leaped and took the ball out of a defender’s hands. He broke free and ran the ball in for the 54-yard touchdown play on senior night.
Vang missed the PAT but Banks still maintained a 21-0 lead with 7:14 left in the first half.
After another unsuccessful Union County drive, the Leopard offense stepped back onto the field. Seven plays and 62 yards later, they had scored again.
Cruce picked up his third touchdown on his final night of football at the school with a run from close to three yards out. Another missed PAT put Banks ahead 27-0.
In the second half, the Leopard defense continued its stranglehold and the shutout over Union County. The Panthers picked up only two first downs in the final two quarters.
Banks’ second team offense also got the majority of the work in the second half to run out the clock and take the win, closing out the first year in the Leopards’ new stadium in much the same way it began.
GAME NOTES
•Senior Tyson Baxter broke the school’s single season passing record with ???? yards after his 54-yard touchdown strike to fellow 12th grader Jimmy Bryant.
•Fullback Alex Cruce had a stellar performance on senior night. He ran for ?? yards on ?? carries with three touchdowns.
•In the first half, the Leopards were two for two on third attempts and didn’t have to try a single fourth down conversion.
•Banks was a perfect three for three on redzone touchdowns in the opening two quarters. The team didn’t punt the ball a single time in the first half.
•The Leopards scored on four of its five possessions. The one possession Banks couldn’t score on in the first half ended because of a fumble to Union County.


It’s Playoff Time
Dragons to host Braves Friday night in first round
For the Jefferson seniors on this season’s football team, the chance to do something special awaits them Friday night in the first round of the state playoffs against Heard County.
It’s been 16 long years since the Dragons last won a playoff game, a mark that includes opening round losses each of the past three seasons for the seniors on this year’s team.
“They have a chance to do something that hasn’t been done in a long, long time here at Jefferson,” Dragon head coach Bill Navas said. “We’ve got some goals that are attainable, they’re not easily attainable, but they can be reached...our seniors have a chance to leave their mark.”
In order to accomplish that feat Jefferson will have to contend with a talented Heard County squad that is no stranger to playoff football. Last season the Braves knocked off Region 8-A’s third-best team, Social Circle, in the opening round of the playoffs.
Friday Heard County will enter Memorial Stadium with a 5-5 record, but on the heels of a 34-0 thrashing to Bowdon last week.
“They are tremendously athletic,” Navas said of Friday’s foe. “If we miss tackles they’ve got guys that can take it to the house.”
Braves head coach Tim Barron has a similar respect for Jefferson, noting that their strength and physical play is a concern for his squad.
“They’ll probably be the most physical team we’ve played all season long,” Barron said. “Watching them on film I’m very impressed with their play up front. They look strong.”
Both Navas and Barron are in their second seasons respectively with the schools, each having guided their teams to the state playoffs last year. Likewise, both squads run the wing-T offense and look to the ground game often on Friday night.
While there are plenty of similarities between the two teams, the way each squad ended the regular season last week is nothing short of a polar opposite.
Jefferson earned their biggest win under Navas when they scored with 22 seconds remaining to knock off defending region champion Athens Academy and earn the second seed from Region 8-A. In contrast, the Braves were pummeled by Bowdon 34-0 in a contest that Barron stated was as poorly as his team has played this season.
“We’ve been up and down all season long, but [last] Friday night we just didn’t come to play,” Barron said. “We’re probably at this point about as healthy as we’ve been all season, the key for us is going to be starting the game well, especially after last week.”
While Barron hopes to put last week behind his team, Navas and company will try and ride the wave of excitement that engulfed Memorial Stadium following last week’s thrilling victory.
“We’ve just got to be honest with the kids and tell them where we stand and that they have a chance to do something special,” Navas explained.
Although unsure of how his players will respond, Barron expressed little concern about playing on the road Friday night, noting that putting last week’s poor performance behind them early in the game is the most important thing the Braves hope to do.
“The only thing I know to do is to get out of school early and get there early and be ready to play,” Barron explained. “You’d love to play at home, but we blew that chance last week.”


HOOPS 2003-2004 Four years of hard work
Raiders hoping experience of large senior class will pay dividends in ‘03-’04
They came in with head coach Steve Crouse as freshmen. Now they’ll try to make their impact felt as they leave.
The Madison County basketball team will suit up seven seniors this season who will become the first class to spend all four years under Crouse, who took over the boys’ program in 2000.
The coach hopes that the culmination of four years of hard work will pay off for a program that’s still looking for it’s first winning season in six years.
“We’re really excited about our senior class,” he said. “From day one, we’ve been instituting what we’ve been wanting them to do.”
What’s been instituted in the group is the continuity of an entire prep career under the same offensive and defensive system. By now the schemes should be entrenched in those players’ minds and Crouse hopes that will be an edge.
“We really think that’s going to pay dividends,” he said. “The less they have to think, the faster they can move their feet.”
Among those seniors in the starting lineup will be guards Josh Booker, Matt Seawright and Bryan Bird and center Russ Drake. Forward Tobias Gantt, a junior, will be the only non-senior to start.
The Raiders will also have senior post players Lee Shivers, Jackson Russom and Will Ryder coming off the bench, though Ryder is currently injured. Rounding out the Madison County subs are juniors Micah Sales and Brent Bird and sophomore Marcus Shivers.
The Raiders’ experience could very well play in its favor, especially in the region. With several 8-AAAA teams losing their share of players from last year due to graduation, Madison County should be one of the most seasoned teams in region, a luxury it’s not used to having.
“Like a player told me, it seemed like we were playing against seniors every night,” Crouse explained. “He said ‘That gives me a lot of confidence (this year) because everybody is the same age or younger.’”
While last year’s rookie campaign in 8-AAAA might have been a crash course, this year’s group will know what to expect night in and night out being a year wiser Crouse said.
As for those teams in Madison County’s sub-region, Clarke Central and Cedar Shoals will, as usual, sport athletic ball clubs according to Crouse. Habersham Central, however, will lose a lot of seniors and could be in the rebuilding stages. In the lower half of the sub-region, Madison County proved it could compete with Winder-Barrow, beating them twice last year, but were bested twice by a young Jackson County team, the only victories in its 22-loss season. The Panthers are however, young again this year and have a new coach as well.
“We want to be in the hunt night in and night out,” Crouse said of its sub-region and region schedule.
The coach, however, believes that the team turned in the offseason work to put it in a position for success and continues to build upon those strides as the season draws near.
“We’ve seen guys in practice with moves now that they didn’t have back during the summer,” he said.
While the moves might be nice, the team will have to show it can shoot the ball. Crouse points out that while his group might look good in intra-squad practice in the comfort of its own gym, going up a against a region foe will be quite another story.
“When we play against an opponent that we haven’t seen in a year, hopefully we’ll still be able to shoot the ball well.”
Especially from the free throw line. Crouse said misses from the charity stripe haunted his team several times last year.
“If we work hard enough to get to the line, we need to go make those shots.”
THE DIRECTION OF THE PROGRAM
While success has yet to be achieved from a winning percentage stand point, Course has nothing but good things to say about the direction of the basketball program.
Especially in its formative levels.
The program has risen from 22 players when Crouse arrived to 32 this year and it again fields a ninth grade program to compliment the JV squad.
Crouse that sub-varsity experience has made a difference.
“The younger kids are really pushing the older kids in practice,” he said. “Our practices are really competitive now and that’s what you want to have.”
Crouse said developing the program from the ground up he’s been working on since day one and noted that the sub-varsity teams “have done nothing but improve,” with those two teams going a combined 19-5 last year.
“I guess some people might say, why hasn’t that shown up at the varsity level? Well, I think it’s starting to.”


Panthers to use Bulldogg’s turnaround as motivation in offseason
For the Jackson County Panthers this season has not been what they had hoped.
Once again the team has ended the year without a win and the current losing streak of 24 games is the second-longest in the state. They were handily beaten in their last game and most people in the state don’t think of Jackson County as a football power, by any means.
Funny thing is, not many at JCCHS seem to be noticing, for it’s no secret around town that things are different with the Panther football program.
Choosing to focus more on the baby steps that have been made this season and looking forward to the future seems to be the outlook many associated with Jackson County football have.
And it all starts at the top.
Head coach Brent Brock, wins or no wins since his arrival two seasons ago, has done a lot to transform Jackson County minds. Solace can now be taken in the fact that the Panthers have “closed the gap” tremendously, despite the 0-10 campaign that just ended.
One need look no further than the scoreboard after several games this season to see just where the ground has been made up on the rest of the 8-AAAA competition.
What was a 40-point margin in a loss to Eastside in 2002, was narrowed to just a field goal in this year’s defeat. Likewise, Habersham Central went from a 35-point victory the year prior, to this season’s narrow three-point escape.
But perhaps the most important showing the Panthers had this past season, although still in defeat, was against the eventual region champions from Clarke Central.
After losing 41-12 to the Gladiators in 2002, Jackson County came out and served notice to the rest of the region that they were through being pushed around. Tied with the Glads at halftime, the Panthers were eventually beaten in their home-opener. But that game proved to many in the region that strides have been made with the Panther Stadium bunch.
“I can tell you that the team that showed up last year and the one we played tonight are two totally different ball clubs,” remarked a Clarke assistant coach after the Sept. 12 game.
Indeed, Brock saw that night the progress that his program had made in a season’s time, despite the defeat.
“I never like losing but I think we showed tonight that we’ve made a tremendous jump,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean a thing if we don’t come out and build on it next week.”
While many would not admit it prior to the beginning of this season, as the year wore on rarely could you find an opposing coach that was eager to step on the field with Jackson County.
From “dangerous” to “hard-nosed” to the ever popular “they’re going to win sometime, we just don’t want it to be against us” comments, most opposing coaches and players have recognized the improvement in Jackson County in the past two seasons.
But now comes the had part for the Panthers, getting past that next step. Turning progress into results.
Should the Panthers look for advice in the coming offseason regarding what it takes to turn progress into wins on the field, they need look no farther than down Hwy. 11 for a model.
After a 1-9 season in 2002, Winder-Barrow finished second in the region this season. And were it not for a loss to Clarke Central to end the year, the Bulldoggs would have claimed the region crown.
No doubt the Panthers will hope to emulate that success in the coming months.

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