Jackson County has the entire summer now to evaluate the good and bad from its Thursday scrimmage as its spring football session has drawn to a close.
The Panthers dropped a spring practice game to Winder-Barrow 42-17, a score that included a pair of touchdowns from the Bulldoggs during a junior varsity-only portion of the exhibition.
“As a whole, I would have thought we would have played a little bit better,” Panther coach Rich McWhorter said. “We were out-athleted. Our team speed, that’s always been a concern, and it kind of showed itself in the scrimmage. I think that Winder was more physical than we were, and that’s also a concern.”
“So we’ve got a lot to work on, a lot to focus on,” McWhorter added. “We use it to see where we are now. We know where we’ve got to go. We know what we’ve got to do.”
Tre Ransom ran for a 10-yard touchdown, and Anthony Finley caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Isaiah Maxey — both in the first half — as Jackson County trailed 21-17 at the break. The Panthers trailed 28-17 at the end of the varsity segment of the scrimmage.
Winder-Barrow quarterback Conyer Smith threw four touchdown passes on the night and Winder-Barrow’s opportunistic defense also came up with three interceptions.
“We appreciate Jackson County for coming over and playing us,” Winder-Barrow coach Ed Dudley told the Barrow News-Journal. “They’re a good, competitive squad. They looked good, too. And I think we both came out of this healthy, which was what we wanted to see.”
McWhorter pointed to both positives and negatives from the scrimmage loss.
“If you look at position-by-position, I thought our offensive line and our running backs did well,” McWhorter said. “Really, other than that, I think all the other groups need a lot of work, especially our secondary. We gave up a lot yards in passing and touchdown passes.”
The concerns weren’t limited to the defensive side of the ball.
“Even at receiver, we had some drops that we feel shouldn’t have happened,” McWhorter said.
Jackson County led 3-0 after an early 41-yard field goal from Brice Rogers, but Conyer Smith led a seven-play, 70-yard drive that culminated with a 14-yard touchdown pass to rising senior Trevor Summerfield, giving the Bulldoggs a 7-3 lead with 4:50 left in the first quarter.
Daniel Pineda intercepted a Jackson County pass on the ensuing drive and returned it to the Panther 28, and the Bulldoggs needed just two plays before Smith connected with Allen in the end zone for a 22-yard, over-the-shoulder grab to extend the Winder-Barrow lead to 14-3 at the 2:43 mark in the opening period.
Smith would go on to add a 44-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, when Tyreeck Hall snuck behind the Panther secondary and hauled in a wide-open throw, and he threw a 26-yarder on third-and-long to Allen, who made a spectacular, lunging grab while staying inbounds in the end zone, to cap the opening drive of the third quarter and put the Bulldoggs up 28-17.
McWhorter said the Panther secondary is a “huge concern right now.”
“Last year, we weren’t really good in the secondary, and it appears this year that we’ve got a long way to go back there, a lot of work to do,” he said.
Jackson County generated some momentum early on.
Ransom, who rushed for over 1,100 yards in nine games last fall, ripped off a 29-yard run on the first play from scrimmage Thursday, and, with the help of a personal-foul penalty along the way, the Panthers worked the ball down to the Winder-Barrow 7 and a first-and-goal situation. But the Bulldogg defense stuffed Ransom on first down, and rising junior linebacker Brooks House came up with back-to-back sacks of Connor Bejin, forcing the Panthers to settle for three points when Rogers booted his 41-yard attempt through the uprights in a non-live kicking situation.
“I think the kid is a potential, bonafide big-time kicker,” McWhorter said. “He’s got a heck of a leg on him.”
After Pineda’s interception set up Winder-Barrow’s second score of the night, the Panthers responded with a 11-play touchdown drive that was extended when they converted a fourth-and-short from their own 38-yard line and aided by another 15-yard penalty against the Bulldoggs. Ransom, who wound up with 85 yards on 15 carries for the night, finished off the drive with a 10-yard dash into the end zone to cut the deficit to 14-10 with 10:04 remaining in the second quarter.
“Yeah, Tre was a bright spot,” McWhorter said. “He’s always a bright spot. He’s a really good football player."
After Winder-Barrow responded with Smith’s touchdown pass to Hall, the Panthers put together another long scoring drive, this time maneuvering 70 yards on 13 plays and taking six minutes off the clock. Isaiah Maxey, who split time with Bejin at quarterback for the Panthers, got his team down to the Bulldogg 10 and then rolled to his right and found Anthony Finley, who made a sliding grab in the front of the end zone to make it 21-17 with 1:41 left in the half.
Jackson County got a huge opportunity 14 seconds later when it recovered a Winder-Barrow fumble at the Bulldogg 48, but rising senior cornerback Jamarious Smith hauled in an overthrown pass by Maxey in the end zone to preserve the lead heading into halftime.
Following Winder-Barrow’s touchdown drive to start the second half, the Panthers moved the ball again, but the drive stalled out on the Bulldogg 20 on a failed fourth-down attempt. The Bulldoggs’ defense made one more stand in their territory in the waning seconds of the third quarter when Joel Pichardo picked off a pass from Bejin.
McWhorter commended the play off the offensive line in the loss, pointing to the consistency of Holden Gilstrap at center and the performances of Evan Rosser, Zach Potter and Logan Cantrell along the front. Cantrell played both guard positions “and showed us he needs to be one of the five on the field,” McWhorter said.
Jackson County now moves into its summer schedule with passing league dates and two camps ahead, as well as an entire offseason in the weight room. The Panthers expect to be in their new facility at the new Jackson County High School by July 12.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,’’ McWhorter said. “Hopefully, we’ll get the commitment needed from the kids to do what we have to do to get better.”