Johnson may be on an 18-game losing streak, but Jackson County head coach Rich McWhorter isn’t taking the Knights lightly.
The third-year head coach with 298 career wins says the Panthers need to play at their best Friday if they want to avoid getting upset by Johnson.McWhorter also raved about the strides Johnson has made since having a rough 2020 season.
“Everyone we’ve talked to and what we’ve seen on film says they’ve played everyone really tough,” he said. “Maybe the most improved football team on our schedule. Coach [William] Harrell has done a great job with that program and those kids.
“They went through some coaching changes throughout the years and coach Harrell being there another year has really helped them get better and build on what they built the year before. You can tell that their kids are bigger and have done a good job in the weight room. Everything they do is just so much better than a year ago. They’ve given some people tough times.”
Though McWhorter and the Panthers are also looking to avoid another letdown in the 2021 season. Following an emotional, comeback win over Franklin County on Sept. 10, Jackson County lost its Region 8-AAAAA opener to Walnut Grove on Sept. 17. The Panthers beat the Warriors 20-0 last year.
Since then, Jackson County (3-3, 1-2 region 8-AAAAA) bounced back with a near-upset of Clarke Central (Sept. 24) and an impressive road victory at Loganville last Friday (Oct. 1). The win over the Red Devils went a long way in salvaging Jackson County’s playoff hopes, but another performance like the Walnut Grove game may shatter those dreams.
“The thing about Friday night that was so gratifying was the way our kids have worked,” McWhorter said. “We knew this year was going to be our best roster we’ve had yet. To come up short against Walnut Grove the way we did was a big disappointment… To come up with this game here, it was really great to see the kids get that. I believe you deserve what you work for, and I believe our kids have worked really hard to have some success.
“We have to turn the page really quick and turn to the next challenge and the next challenge is Johnson... If we come out and play flat like we did against Walnut Grove, it’s a game we can lose. No question. We’ve got to come out and play at our very best and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. If you do have aspirations of being a playoff football team, that’s what you get, a better team every week.”
Johnson’s (0-5, 0-3 Region 8-AAAAA) stat sheet won’t blow anyone away. Sophomore running back Demetri Moon is the only ball-handler with over 200 total yards. He leads the Knights with 165 rushing yards and 134 kick return yards and he has scored two touchdowns. However, 235 of his 299 yards came in the shootout loss to East Hall and he hasn’t played since the Eastside game on Sept. 17.
Junior quarterback Michael Thurmond is the leader of Johnson’s offense with 127 rushing yards and 108 passing yards through five games. He also has three total touchdowns. His top receivers are Jeffrey Castillo (nine catches for 58 yards), Jud Farmer (five catches for 17 yards) and Jake Shaw (four catches for 33 yards).
Jackson County at Johnson
Who: Jackson County at Johnson (Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium)
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Records: Jackson County 3-3; Johnson 0-5
Coaches: Rich McWhorter, Jackson County (third year at Jackson County, 10-16; 32nd year overall, 298-95-2); William Harrell, Johnson (second year at Johnson, 0-15; seventh season overall, 22-44)
What else: Friday will be the 10th meeting all-time between Jackson County and Johnson. The Knights lead the all-time series 5-4, but the Panthers have won the last four meetings dating back to 1997. Jackson County is currently 2-2 in games played at Johnson. Including games against West Hall, the Panthers are 6-5 in games played in Oakwood.