Jackson County High School’s football team used last year’s win against the Winder-Barrow High School Bulldoggs to help springboard into the postseason.
As the two teams prepare to meet again Friday at W. Clair Harris Stadium, it’s the WBHS Bulldoggs who hope to reverse those roles from a season ago. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. as both teams begin the 2013 regular season.
David Wagner enters his fourth season at WBHS while Benji Harrison is beginning year two with the Jackson County program. The Panthers will continue using a spread attack which Harrison used as offensive coordinator while at Flowery Branch High School.
“Jackson County has some really good athletes that they are going to throw it to,” said WBHS defensive coordinator Stanley Allen. “Their quarterback (Jacob Lewis) looked pretty good in the film this past week. They are definitely running the spread offense. Their coach does a great job with that offense. They have an All-State receiver (Xaiver Harper) and his brother plays, also. We are going to have to be on our toes all night to stop them.”
Allen, who is also in his fourth season with the Bulldoggs, said the players have worked hard each day in practice for the new football season.
“The kids understand what we need to improve on from the scrimmage and have been working really hard to do that,” Allen said. “We have grown up some in the last week. We have to be really tight on our coverages and watch out for the run. They love to run the read option and come off it with a pass or two.”
More speed defensively this season should help WBHS, including the opener against Jackson County.
“They will spread us out and try to take advantage of us,” Allen said. “At least this year we do have some speed to try to offset some of the spread offenses.”
Defensively, Jackson County is a 4-3 team, WBHS offensive coordinator Andrew Johnson said.
“Their student-athletes are well coached, and seem to love to hit,” said Johnson, who is in his fourth year at WBHS, but first as offensive coordinator for the program. “I think they will try to play sound defense, keep us in front of them, and then rally to the football. They want to make us drive the football and wait for us to make a mistake. We need to play mistake free, and also learn how to be patient. We are not going to hit the home run every drive.”
Harrison, now in his second season directing the Jackson County program, said he believes his team is ready to begin the new season.
“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 into 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.”
Turnovers — or lack of them, will play a key in the outcome Friday.
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. Defensively, we just have to keep everything in front of us. 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.”
Jackson County has been focusing on WBHS for several weeks.
"It’s a big game for us," Harrison said. “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.”