COMING off of its strongest season in 20 years, the Jackson County Comprehensive High School football team is eager to kick things off on Friday night.
The Panthers will travel to Winder-Barrow High School to face off with a struggling Bulldogg team, which broke a 31-game winless streak last fall.
Still, Panther head coach Benji Harrison isn’t taking Winder-Barrow lightly. He has had his squad preparing for weeks and at this point, Jackson County is ready to roll.
“I think we are definitely ready to play and get the season started,” Harrison said. “At this point in time, I think every coach around the state is. We have been practicing a ton, so the kids are anxious to get in to game mode. Because they know a game is coming, practice has been going well. There has been a better tempo in the last couple weeks.”
Harrison, who led the Panthers to a 6-5 season and a playoff berth last year, will look to a cast of senior receivers to make plays on offense.
First-year starting quarterback, Jacob Lewis will try to spread the ball around to Xavier Harper, Ben Brissey and Layson Giles, while Malik Tuck will head up the ground game.
Harrison believes that if the Panther offensive line can protect Lewis and limit mistakes, Jackson County will be able to put points on the board.
“Offensively, we can’t turn the ball over and we have to make plays,” Harrison said. “We have to protect the passer, because (Winder-Barrow) likes to bring a lot of pressure. We have to be very sound up front.”
Harrison’s defense, anchored by senior linebackers Evan Breakspear and Chandler Todd, will aim to keep the Bulldoggs from making big plays.
“Defensively, we just have to keep everything in front of us,” Harrison said. “They have several guys with very good speed, and we cannot let them get behind us and hit us with a big play. We want to make them drive the length of the field and eliminate big gains.”
Winder-Barrow offensive coordinator Andrew Johnson said the Bulldoggs will need to limit mistakes on offense to get a break against the Panther defense. “They want to make us drive the football and wait for us to make a mistake,” said Johnson. “We need to play mistake free, and also learn how to be patient. We are not going to hit the home run every drive.”
While the matchup with the Bulldoggs is a non-region game, Harrison won’t discount its importance in regards to the Panthers getting off to a good start.
“We need to play well against Winder,” said Harrison. “It’s a big game for us. All of our focus has been on them for the last several weeks. Our kids realize the importance of it. Being a young football team, we need to get some confidence early on, and the only way to do that in a game like this is to win it. Our kids know that and they’ll be ready to play.”
Kickoff is this Friday at Winder-Barrow High School’s stadium at 7:30 p.m.
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