Jefferson has had to deal with both size and speed before but rarely simultaneously this season.
But that’s the quandary the Dragons (9-1) face this Friday (Nov. 22) in the second round of the state playoffs when they host Appling County.
“They’re the combination that they’re big and strong, but they also have some guys that can move as well,” Jefferson coach Gene Cathcart said. “So, obviously, that creates its own set of problems.”
Appling County is the No. 2 seed out of Region 2-AAA but “certainly have No. 1-seed talent,” Cathcart said.
The south Georgia squad is partial to running the football, and its ground game is sparked by Sharode Roberts, whom Cathcart called “one of the best football players in that part of the state.” Roberts leads the team with 674 yards rushing.
“He’s a playmaker, and also can catch the ball and play defense,” Cathcart said.
While Appling County runs multiple sets on offense, its identity is running power football under veteran coach Rick Tomberlin, who won three state titles back in the 1990s at Washington County.
“Given the choice, I think he’d rather lineup in the Pro-I and just kind of come right downhill at you,” Cathcart said.
Fullback R.J. Conaway, a 235-pound senior, is a major part of the Pirates offense with 646 rushing yards on the season. Justice Huntley, a 255-pound junior bruiser, also plays fullback. The Pirates also get quarterback Jeremiah Holmes involved in the running game on bootleg plays. Holmes is the team’s third-leading rusher (629 yards). J.J. Wasdin, a 6-2, 285-pound senior, anchors the Pirate offensive line.
“There’s no shortage of playmakers,” Cathcart said. “They would prefer to just kind of run it down your throat and play defense.”
Defensively, Appling County is surrendering a scant 10.2 points per game. The Pirates feature a 320-pound defensive lineman in Thorne Bryant and a 6-6, 225-pound defensive end in Darris Smith, who has 13.5 tackles for loss this season. Appling County has racked up 67 tackles for loss as a team this season.
Cathcart said his team faces an opponent that’s not going to gift the Dragons many mistakes.
“They’re extremely sound, good players,” Cathcart said. “They’re not going to beat themselves. They take a lot of pride in winning the turnover battle, but they’re always athletic enough to where they’re one missed tackle away from a big play.”
Appling County defeated Westside (Macon) 28-7 to move on to the second round, while Jefferson took care of Sonoraville 49-17 to advance. The Dragons broke open a 20-17 game in the middle of the third quarter to win in a rout.
“Hopefully, we’ll get back to that rhythm that we had at the end in the third and fourth quarter this past game and find that rhythm again and get back to playing like our guys have showed all year that they can play,” Cathcart said.
Jefferson, winners of nine straight games, seeks its sixth trip to the state quarterfinals in eight seasons.