Jackson County hopes to start the season 2-0, but to do so, it’ll need to defeat Stephens County, its high-powered offense and big play defense.
The Indians are 2-0 on the year and are coming off a 42-0 drumming of North Hall. Beyond the perfect record and eye-popping box scores, Panther head coach Rich McWhorter sees a team full of impressive athletes on both sides of the ball.
“They’ve got good team speed, especially in the offensive backfield and defensive secondary; along with great size on the line of scrimmage,” McWhorter said. “As far as the size, East Jackson was a big group on the line of scrimmage, these guys are along the same line.
“The quarterback play is really good. Last year [Ben Stowe] was a sophomore and he did a really good job. They had a wide receiver that went to Vanderbilt (Gamarion Carter). Last year we knew we had to scheme against that guy, this year we have to scheme against several very quick players.”
The Indians run a very balanced offense led by Stowe. He already has 314 passing yards, 95 rushing yards and five total touchdowns this season. The bulk of his handoffs go to sophomore Tyson Everett who is yet to show his youth. Everett has 215 yards on just 28 carries through two games.
Stowe is also spreading the ball out more than he did last year when he could rely on Carter. Cam’ron Lacy, the team’s second-leading receiver last year is off to a hot start this year with 109 yards on two catches. Corey Richie is Stephens County’s leading target with seven catches for 128 yards. Stowe will also target Kelton Cade, Bryson Trimier, Jasec Smith and Will Keener.
On offense, the Panthers face a four-man front with a massive front seven and a fast, aggressive defensive backfield. Armand Cunningham and Quanah Martin lead a pass rush that’s already produced five hurries and two sacks.
Lacy and Richie are also great defensive backs. Each has an interception along with a return of over 50 yards. Stephens County has a defense that can change the complexion of a game at any moment.
“We’ll do some things differently schematically as far as our blocking assignments and how we’ll do things in the passing game,” McWhorter said. “Their four defensive backs are really athletic. The thing that sticks out is that not only can these guys cover well, but they can surely come up and hit you, they’re good tacklers.”
Stephens County doesn’t have all of the momentum. Jackson County defeated East Jackson 26-0 last week with 363 yards of total offense. Tre Ransom led the Panthers with 148 yards, but perhaps the biggest story was MJ Spurlin emerging to create a true one-two-punch in the backfield. The sophomore had 92 yards on nine touches.
Jackson County at Stephens County
Who: Jackson County at Stephens County (The Reservation)
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Records: Jackson County 1-0; Stephens County 2-0
Coaches: Rich McWhorter, Jackson County (third season at Jackson County, 8-13; 32nd season overall, 296-92-2), Wesley Tankersley, Stephens County (fourth season at Stephens County, 13-18; 14th season overall, 78-62)
What else: This will be the eighth meeting between Jackson County and Stephens County. Last year was the first time the Panthers and Indians as non-region opponents, Stephens County won 24-10. The Indians lead the all-time series 6-1... Jackson County's lone win over Stephens County came in the 2009 season finale when the Panthers won 26-23 on the road... Jackson County is looking for its first 2-0 start since it opened the 2017 season 3-0, and its sixth 2-0 start all-time.