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Posted: Friday, October 12th 2012 at 7:36pm

Wildcats, Dragons pumped for 8-AA showdown in the mountains

By Morgan Lee Editor
click to enlarge
Jefferson football coach T McFerrin, left, will lead his Dragons into a showdown at Rabun County against coach Lee Shaw's Wildcats tonight in Tiger.
TIGER -- The last time Rabun County football finished a season with a winning record, Lee Shaw was an assistant with the Wildcats program. And the last time Rabun challenged for a region title Shaw was the head coach at White County football.

The 2000 and 1998 seasons, respectively, signify ancient history to high school football players, but Shaw hopes his current Rabun County team can recapture some of that illustrious past this weekend when ninth-ranked Jefferson pays a visit to Tiger.

“This is the measuring stick for our program. If we can match them on the physical side and get a break or two, we have a chance,” said Shaw, who is in just his sixth game in charge with the Wildcats. “If you can win a ballgame like this it is huge for your program and can slingshot you into the rest of the region. It’s one of those games that can go down in history.”

The Dragons are all too familiar with those kind of games, having pounced on then-No.7 and undefeated Washington-Wilkes 31-0 just last week.

Playing what T McFerrin says was the best game of his reign at Jefferson, the Dragons dominated the Tigers in all phases of the game, vaulting the Dragons into the top 10 and putting them at the forefront of the Region 8-AA title race.

“I’m shocked too to be honest with you,” McFerrin said. “You always hope you can win, but that margin was really a surprise. We played probably our most complete game in the three-and-a-half years since I’ve been here. Now we have to keep it up. We’ve got to get back down to earth, because Rabun County has a really fine football team.”

To watch a video preview of the showdown that could well decide the Region 8-AA title, simply scroll down and click “play.”

Preview: Rabun County vs Jefferson from WDUN TV on Vimeo.

Indeed the two opponents present a sort of mirror image of each other, as the Wildcats look to make history in Shaw’s first season, gunning for their first region title since 1998.

“Preparations this week has almost been like playing ourselves,” said McFerrin, whose Dragons last claimed a region title in 2009 – in McFerrin’s first season in charge of Jefferson. “Offensively and defensively we do a lot of the same things.”

Both teams utilize strong quarterback play to facilitate multiple offenses capable of putting up points in bunches.

The Wildcats lean on junior Wes Holcombe to lead their zone-read option attack -- and the standout is impressing, as well as having a lot of fun, in Shaw’s wide-open attack.

“It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy it a lot,” said Holcombe, who has passed for 814 yards, rushed for a team-high 349 yards and put up 12 total touchdowns. “I was under center last year. Our offensive line has been doing a really good job up front this year, and the running backs are running hard; the wide receivers are catching the ball and really helping me out. We’ve been hard to stop.”

Jefferson’s offense, meanwhile, has been just as deadly, averaging 31 points per game behind the leadership of senior signal caller Bryant Shirreffs. A sizable dual threat, Shirreffs has spread the ball to a number of threats, including running back Sammy Williams and receivers like Walter Chapeau and Chandler Thompson.

“Shirreffs has done a great job, but he couldn’t do it if the offensive wasn’t playing well,” McFerrin said. “Then, after the defense has been not real good they come out and pitch a shutout last week, which is remarkable. They have all improved.”

The Dragons have shown tremendous growth since a season-opening loss to Commerce, including a comeback win at North Hall on Sept. 14. And Dragons players say that defeat to the Tigers has been key in helping spark the turnaround.

“The loss to Commerce is serving as fuel for the season,” Shirreffs said. “Just thinking about it makes me nauseous.”

Funny enough, the Tigers are the only team to have also defeated Rabun County, eeking out an 18-17 victory after the Wildcats had led for most of the contest -- and don’t think that has escaped the attention of Jefferson.

“They played Commerce better than we did, and I’ve told the team that makes Rabun better than us,” McFerrin said. “I’m going to tell them that (Wednesday), (Thursday) and Friday.”

Don’t expect Shaw to be singing the same song, however.

“(Jefferson is) a tough, disciplined, hard-nosed football team,” Shaw said. “I’m very impressed with them. There’s a reason they’re No. 1 in the region.”

Hard-nosed physicality could also be a key tonight, as both teams rely on effort and desire, especially on defense, where both teams do their best to get to the ball en masse in their 4-3 bases.

“We’re just a hard-nosed defense, and we like to hit,” Rabun senior Kendall Woodard said. “The key is we swarm to the football. We’re not going to do anything different this week. We’re going to hit them in the mouth and not back down.”

Dragons linebacker Wesley Simonton says his team is prepared to do the same.

“They definitely have a great offense. They’re definitely a lot different team than what they’ve had in the past. They’re going to make some big plays, but so will we. Hopefully will go up there and hit them in the mouth and the rest will go our way.”

Whichever way it goes, you can bet it will be one for the memory books.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Frank Snyder Stadium, Tiger
-- JEFFERSON (4-1, 2-0 Region 8-AA): Defeated Washington-Wilkes 31-0 last week. The Dragons are ranked No. 9 in Class AA.
-- RABUN (4-1, 2-0 Region 8-AA): Defeated Riverside Military 42-20 last week.
-- HISTORY: Jefferson won the last meeting, 36-6 in 2009. The Dragons hold a 16-3 lead in the series.

Link: To see all the games lined up for area teams in Week 7 of prep football action, simply click here...
Associated Categories: Sports News, High School Sports

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