Wednesday, September 27, 2017

High School Football "Halftime" Review and the AugBball Game of the Week

Follow @AugBball on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for my football coverage, which is brand new at AugBball. I've been featuring a game of the week every Friday and providing live highlights and updates as well as post game interviews and game summaries and much more.

This week's game of the week:
Harlem (4-1, 2-0) at #3 Screven County (5-0, 2-0)

Harlem's visit to Screven County this Friday will be AugBball's Game of the Week!

Now let's get to the halftime review...

Six of the high school football season's 12 weeks have passed. These are the stories about the local teams that are on the top of my mind, and the teams and games that I plan to closely track in the next month.

1) Burke County played flawless throughout the pre-region schedule

"If we are the team we say we are..." - BC Coach Eric Parker

After 5 games, four of them against teams in a higher classification, Burke County has proven, at least statistically, that it is a team that can get "a yard or two" in the most important moments of a game. I'm referring to coach Eric Parker's quote in Saturday's Effingham Herald about his decision to go for it on fourth-and-two in his own territory while leading 28-19 in the fourth quarter at Effingham County Friday.

"We didn't want to give them the ball back," Parker said. "We had some success running the ball so we decided -- if we are the team we say we are -- we need to get a yard or two."
Jaylen Odom gained 35 yards on that play, and the Bears, class AAAA's #7 ranked team, scored two plays later and picked up an impressive road win to establish a 5-0 record before beginning region play at Cross Creek October 6.

Jaylen Odom gained 35 yards on a crucial fourth down play. Photo credit: Larry Smith

Burke County tallied 480 rushing yards against Effingham County, and that wasn't even a season high. That came during a week 3 win over Washington County when the Bears rushed for 568 yards and scored 33 unanswered points to turn a 17-9 third quarter deficit into a 42-17 trouncing. This type of dominance should continue through region play, at least until October 27 when region rival Thomson, the state's #2 team, visits Waynesboro for a showdown between the two best teams in the area, at least on the Georgia side of the border.

Everybody is anticipating the October 27th Thomson-Burke County showdown!

Speaking of #2 ranked Thomson, the Bulldogs have been off for three weeks. They are back in action Friday at home against winless Clarkston before beginning region play. I expect them to sail through the region schedule leading up to the game in Waynesboro, which will be televised by WJBF and featured here as my game of the week.

2) North Augusta is poised for its best season in years

The Yellow Jackets have avenged 2 of last season's losses, but the 2 more important opportunities are ahead.

North Augusta has sprinted to 5 comfortable wins and in the process has beaten both Lexington and White Knoll in the same season for the first time since 2012. After taking care of rival Strom Thurmond last week, the Yellow Jackets have one more non region game, this Friday at Lower Richland, before getting the opportunity to get revenge at home over region foes South Aiken and Airport, both teams they couldn't get past on the road last season.

I'll be back at N Augusta for the October 13th showdown with S Aiken, which may determine whether the Jackets earn their first region title since 2013.

The 34-21 win over Thurmond was probably the most competitive contest so far for coach Brian Thomas's senior laden team, which sports an average margin of victory of 24 points. And besides an interception on the first play that led to a quick Strom Thurmond touchdown, the Yellow Jackets were essentially flawless for the next three quarters of play, scoring 28 unanswered points and keeping the Rebels out of the red zone all but one time.

The offense is loaded with firepower, and the most reliable ingredient last Friday was the running game. Running back Derius Gibson ran for 217 yards on 17 carries in the first game all season in which he played during the fourth quarter. The offensive line deserves a lot of the credit. 168 of the yards were gained on 4 plays in which Gibson was touched by a defender within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage only one time. Here is a look at that dominance by the North Augusta line, led by left tackle Sam Bryant and left guard Bryce Williamson:

Quarterback Landon Washington is among the area's leaders in passing touchdowns (9), passing yards (866) completion percentage (62%). And he showed poise Friday after throwing an interception on the game's first play, which allowed Strom Thurmond to take a quick 7-0 lead. On his very next snap, Washington stood in the pocket and took a hit from Thurmond's Tre Moore right after releasing a touchdown pass to Junius Walker. Washington was on target the rest of the night. His 5-12 completion-attempt figures were skewed by three dropped passes, two of which were on third down. The dual threat QB also ran for a touchdown.

Washington's favorite target, senior speedster Dejuan Bell, averages over 20 yards per completion and has found the end zone 6 times through the air. He is a constant threat, as he showed Friday with a 37 yard kick off return that set up North Augusta's first touchdown. Bell also haunts the secondary, where he has grabbed 4 interceptions this season. Taking turns with Bell making big plays is Kashaun Johnson, who returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown Friday. Johnson also has a pair of interceptions on the season.

3) The 6A Race is unpredictable until Evans, Greenbrier, and Grovetown meet

These teams have all looked good while playing completely different schedules.

Damekus Taylor has accounted for the most touchdowns (20) of any area player.

Evans (3-2) has had a thrilling ride through non region play, including a 49-48 overtime loss at Washington County two weeks ago and a dominant 45-2 whipping of Baldwin last Friday. Those two games were a continuation of a season long trend of junior quarterback Damekus Taylor and senior running back Corey Watkins lighting up the scoreboard. Watkins has run for 8 touchdowns and returned a punt for another score. And Taylor has scorched defenses with 14 running and 6 passing TD's. His highlight reel from Friday's win at Baldwin is worth viewing!

For the second straight season, Greenbrier finished non region play with 5 wins and no losses. Like Evans, the Wolfpack has only played schools from lower classifications. But Greenbrier has yet to play a team that has posted a quality win. That said, the Wolfpack appears to be capable of doing what it couldn't do last season: follow a successful first half of the season with a string of wins in region play.

Its disciplined and aggressive defense has played mistake free ball and held opponents to 21 points through 5 games. And running back JQ Brown has posted gaudy statistics (16 touchdowns and 757 yards in 5 games). Brown has benefitted from impressive offensive line play. That shows in these clips from Greenbrier's 34-7 win over Harlem, the most competitive game the Wolfpack has played to date:

Grovetown and Lakeside may have played the toughest schedules of any region teams. And the Warriors showed plenty of life by dominating Richmond 29-0 on the road last Friday. Linebacker Gregg Rodgers made a big impact on that game, tallying 14 tackles, 4 for a loss, and a sack.

Add defending region champion Heritage to that list of Columbia County schools and you have a wide open region. These key games during the next few weeks will determine a lot about this race:

October 6th:

Heritage at Grovetown
Lakeside at Greenbrier

October 13th:

Evans at Grovetown (WJBF Game of the Week)
Greenbrier at Heritage

October 20th:

Greenbrier at Evans

4) Can Harlem make the class AA race a three team affair?

The Bulldogs will have to earn it on the road against two of the state's top teams.

Harlem (4-1, 2-0) looks poised to make its first state playoff appearance since 2001. The Bulldogs are trending towards a #3 seed after beating Glenn Hills and Butler the past two weeks. But why not take a giant leap forward and upset #3 Screven County this Friday, and/or #7 ranked Jefferson County next week? The Bulldogs are riding a wave of excitement, and I would bet freshman Cameron Garnett (12 touchdowns and 713 rushing yards this season) and junior AJ Brown (10 touchdowns and 713 rushing yards) believe their team can accomplish anything right now.

Obviously, defeating Screven County on the road Friday will be easier for me to type than it will be for the Bulldogs to make happen. The first question will be whether 285 pound fullback CJ Wright, who will play at Georgia Southern next season, can be stopped:

And if that giant feat can be accomplished, Harlem will have to multitask by catching quarterback Armani Bunbury, who seems to have all the moves, and Tyquan Johnson, a 6'3" 195 pound receiver who has committed to play for the South Carolina Gamecocks:

Like I said, winning Friday is easier for me to type than for the Bulldogs to make happen. But I'll be there to see if they can get it done!

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