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Posted: Friday, August 22nd 2014 at 7:37pm

2014 kickoff: No playoffs on line, but plenty to watch in Jefferson (VIDEO)

By Morgan Lee Editor
EMAIL STORY CONTACT EDITOR PRINT
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Jefferson, left, and Rabun County will face off Friday at Jefferson's Memorial Stadium.
Preview: Rabun Co. at Jefferson
JEFFERSON -- Rabun County coach Lee Shaw wanted his team battle tested before the playoff race began.

Jefferson coach Ben Hall wanted his team ready for the rigors of Region 8-AAA.

Voila -- on Friday the two former Region 8-AA foes will face off in a season-opener tailor made for each program and one that should have the attention of football fans throughout northeast Georgia, as two playoff teams face off.

“This game is important to start the season on a successful note, and it sets the tone for next week,” Hall said. “We have a very tough non-region schedule this season.”

So too do the Wildcats, who open with the Dragons -- ranked fifth in Class AAA -- before playing host to Class AAAAAA Habersham Central, Class A 2013 state semifinalist Mt. Pisgah Christian, and another Region 8-AAA playoff team in Jackson County.

(NOTE: To watch a video preview of tonight's contest, simply click "play" in the box to the right.)

“This is one of those games that continues to get our program better,” Shaw said. “This game will help us get ready for (Region 8-AA teams like) Washington-Wilkes. Jefferson is a physical team that can also spread you out and make you play in space.”

With players like quarterback Evan Shirreffs and receivers TJ Skelton and Dalton Hill, the Dragons feature a potent mix of talent, speed and experience -- though Hall says it is an attack that may still need some time to hit top gear considering that it will be starting a new offensive line and replacing a graduated standout in fullback Tristen Jackson.

“We’ve got a lot of new faces on offense; It’s going to be a few weeks before offense gels,” Hall said. “We just have to be careful not to ask those guys to do too much and let them grow into their positions. If they improve we can be pretty good.”

The Wildcats will also be anxious to see how some new starters take to their roles on Friday, especially at quarterback, where Collin Grant gets the nod to replace graduated standout Wes Holcombe.

Yet Grant, a senior, will have a number of options to help him out, including receivers Alden Wright, Jack Johnson, Noah Cannon and Tyler Harris. Yet his biggest target, literally and figuratively, figures to be junior Charlie Woerner.

The 6-foot-5, 225-pound receiver has the speed and agility to burn opposing defenses -- he placed third in the 300 high hurdles at the 2013 state meet -- as well as the strength to break tackles and punish tacklers. It is the type of ability that has already netted scholarship offers from programs such as Georgia, Alabama, Clemson, Tennessee and Florida.

“He’s so athletic, there’s nothing he can’t do on the football field. Give him two days to learn it, and he could play any position on the field,” Shaw said of Woerner, who is also the team’s starting safety. “The thing that’s special about Charlie is he’s not just a great athlete. He’s a great kid. He wants to play for Rabun County; he’s not worried about colleges right now. He’s very well-grounded, and I’m having a blast coaching him.”

Opponents have not had a blast playing him, however, and the Dragons say they will keep one eye on him at all times Friday.

“He’s a rangy guy that runs well. Defensively they put him in centerfield, and he gets to the ball,” Hall said of Woerner. “Offensively they put him in the right position to be successful. They want to get him the ball, and you want to be aware of No. 34.”

Likewise, Rabun will want to keep an eye on Skelton. The senior has the speed and athleticism to take any pass the distance, and his raw skills paid off for the Dragons in last year’s contest between the two, as Skelton -- with just one week to prepare after an injury to Shirreffs -- started at quarterback and led Jefferson to an overtime win.

“TJ first and foremost is a leader. He’s a receiver and can play QB, and his leadership has been vital,” Hall said. “And with him on one side and Dalton on the other that can pose problems for defenses.”

Yet both defenses should be prepared for the challenge -- the Wildcats return eight starters on defense, while the Dragons boast nine starters back from 2013.

“I’m expecting a good game again. They’ve beaten us the last two years, and we want to get one from them,” Woerner said. “I think this game might be a lot like last year because both teams are so good.”

Another nailbiting finish between two teams giving it their all? It sounds like a fan’s -- if not necessarily a coach’s -- dream, and a great way to kick off 2014.

RABUN COUNTY at JEFFERSON
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Jefferson
-- RABUN COUNTY (0-0, 0-0 Region 8-AA): The Wildcats are coming off back-to-back state playoff seasons for the first time in school history.
-- JEFFERSON (0-0, 0-0 Region 8-AAA): The Dragons advanced to the Class AA quarterfinals in 2013 but moved up to AAA this season.
-- HISTORY: The Dragons lead the series 18-3 and have won 15 straight. The last Rabun County win came in 1955. However, it has been one of the better matchups the past two seasons with Jefferson winning 26-20 in overtime last year in a key Region 8-AA showdown. Expect another competitive game as both teams look for a quick start to the season.
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