JACKSON County got off to an 0-3 start last year, and the Panthers certainly don’t want to repeat that process. While the three defeats to start 2013 didn’t ultimately hurt Jackson County — all were non-region losses and the Panthers reached the state playoffs — coach Benji Harrison would like to start the season off on better footing this time around as his team hosts nearby Madison County Friday at 7:30 p.m.

“We need to win,” he said. “Football is so much about momentum, so you need to create some positive momentum early and play well. It’s a big game for us.”

The Panthers face a Red Raider team that dominated its scrimmage against Oglethorpe County 34-6 Aug. 15 and blasted Johnson 31-3 last week.

Harrison is wary of the size and speed the Class AAAA Red Raiders — who went 4-6 a year ago — possess.

“They’re just scary because they’ve got a few guys that can run really well,” Harrison said. “Then you couple that with being big, that’s a pretty good combination.”

The coach has the same concerns about Madison County’s defense, which held Johnson to a field goal last week.

“They’re big,” Harrison said. “Some of those same guys who play on offense play over there in the secondary so they’re pretty quick. They’re a good football team.”

Jackson County had last Friday night off while a number of teams started their seasons — including local rivals Jefferson and East Jackson.

Harrison is sure his players were ready to go last week but is thankful for the extra week to scheme and prepare for the opener.

“As coaches, we like to have an extra week to prepare because we just feel like we can never be prepared enough,” he said. “So for us, it’s good.”

It also allowed time for a few dinged up Panthers to get healthy, most notably safety Jase Latty. Latty was recovering from meniscus surgery and missed Jackson County’s Aug. 15 scrimmage with Athens Academy. He’s expected back for Friday’s matchup.

“That’s big for us,” Harrison said. “He kind of controls everything for us in the secondary.”

Friday’s matchup between Jackson County and Madison County is the first for these border county foes since 2007.

Jackson County trails the all-time series 10-0. Given the proximity of the two schools, Harrison expects a large crowd.

“Their fan base will be excited, and we expect them to bring a crowd,” he said. “I think our fans will be excited. So it should be a good atmosphere to open the season up.”

And Harrison knows his players are finally ready to start the season.

“They’ve been doing a lot since back in the winter,” he said. “So it’s been a long preseason, so they’re just chomping to play somebody in a different color jersey.”

NOTES: This matchup will reunite Harrison with a former college teammate, Madison County head coach Chris Smith.

Harrison and Smith played two years together in the mid-1990s at Presbyterian College. Both were quarterbacks.

“I’ve known Chris for a long time and talk to him quite a bit,” he said. “So it will be fun. I know that he does a great job over there and I know what kind of program he runs. It’s good for us to get to play each other.”

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