STARKS

Jefferson's Malaki Starks pushes away from the grasp of a Rabun County defender during the Dragons' 28-14 win over Rabun County last year. The two teams will meet on Aug. 20 to open the season. 

One of the marquee games of last year featuring two of the state’s marquee players is returning to the schedule in 2021.

Jefferson will host Rabun County Aug. 20 for a high-profile opener in a game that was recently finalized.

The teams had signed only a one-year deal last season, but when circumstances – and an available date — arose again for these teams to play again, both Jefferson coach Gene Cathcart and Rabun County coach Jaybo Shaw moved to schedule a rematch. Jefferson defeated Rabun County 28-14 last year on the road in one of the bigger non-region matchups in the state.

“Our atmosphere was awesome last year, and when Jaybo and I looked at it, a mutual date that would work for both of us was the first play date, so both of us were excited to nail that date down,” Cathcart said.

The Dragons went on to a 14-1 season and played for the Class AAAA state title. Rabun County went 12-2 and reached the Class AA semifinals.

The game will once again pit Georgia-commit Gunner Stockton, a five-star quarterback for Rabun County, against Georgia target Malaki Starks, a five-star athlete for Jefferson. Starks is also considering Alabama and Clemson.

Given the profile of those two players, the matchup should draw national attention. It should also draw plenty of fans.

“Jaybo said he was hoping for a great, hostile atmosphere and game to help both of our teams prepare for the critical region games and atmospheres we would face later and on into the playoffs, which was a great point,” Cathcart said. “It was a packed house on both sides last year and with two of the top programs in northeast Georgia, Gunner and Malaki and so many other college prospects in the game and two great communities that love their football, it should be a special night to kick off the 2021 season and great for high school football in our area.

“Hopefully, we will give coach Shaw the hostile atmosphere he asked us for.”

The game could potentially lead to more matchups between the two programs as Jefferson searches for non-region opponents in the future.

“We hope so,” Cathcart said when asked about the possibility. “It is always awesome to compete with programs you have true respect for and who do things the right way like Rabun County does. Not speaking for coach Shaw but I am sure his program, like ours, is a victim of caller ID and unreturned messages most of the time when we try to find local non-region games. To find an opponent you hold in high esteem who not only is willing to play — but embraces the challenge and the opportunity for both programs to improve — is rare …”

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