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Jefferson County’s Warriors in Sylvania for region opener

Looking to extend their current winning streak to three games and end a two-game losing streak at the hands Screven County’s now sixth-ranked Gamecocks, the powerhouse Jefferson County Warriors will invade Kelly Memorial Stadium this Friday, Sept. 25, for the Region 3AA opener for each team.
A year ago this contest, played in Louisville, proved to be the difference between first and second place in the region for the two teams.
In 2014, the Red and White won 12-7.
Each team enters this contest in a very similar fashion to a year ago. SCHS is 4-0 and virtually untested, while JCHS is 2-2 with losses to a pair of 3AAAA teams in 4-0 Thomson 55-22 and 4-1 Burke County 24-22. Since then, the Warriors own wins over Washington-Wilkes 29-14 and Glenn Hills 42-28 (the game was 42-7 at the half).
Both Washington-Wilkes and Glenn Hills are winless.
Jefferson County will come to town as it has every year under JB Arnold, the longest tenured coach in 3AA, and work from the spread offense. At the helm since 2001, Arnold boasts a record of 101-60-3, while there and 13 consecutive state playoff appearances. The Warriors have advanced to at least the second round in six of the last eight years.
Senior quarterback TJ Bell (6-3, 190) makes the Jefferson County spread work.
“Their spread is a lot different than most spread teams,” explained SCHS head Gamecock coach Ron Duncan. “It is very much centered around an outstanding quarterback. They are loaded at the skill positions and return their OL that scored over 50 points five times last year.”
Operating most of the time from an empty set, Bell is the team’s leading passer and far and away the leading rusher (45 rushes for 213 yards). His passing stats include 42-97-3 for 553 yards and eight scores. As the season has progressed, Arnold has employed more jet motion into the offense with more option looks between Bell and slotbacks Jayron McKennie (5-8, 175 Jr.) and Clin Tucker (5-7, 160 Soph.)
Bell’s favorite targets have been senior receivers Marquis Carter (6-2, 180) with 17-198 and four TDs and Jakota Turner (6-2, 225) with 15-280 and four TDs. Carter also returns kicks. Junior Justin Davis (5-11 150) adds to the tall group with 7-100 and a TD.
At times in the past, frequently with little success, the Gamecocks have gone to a three-man front when facing the five-receiver sets of JCHS. Will the Dirty Birds abandon their four this year?
“They dominated Burke County who runs an odd front,” answered Duncan. “Probably not in our best interest to do that. It is better to stick with what we do instead of trying to change at this point.”
Defensively, the Warriors base from a four-man front, but frequently bring up the outside linebackers to make it truly a six-man front, They blitz at least one linebacker and sometimes two on virtually every play. Their goal is to force teams into passing situations, especially teams that do not pass first. That is exactly the strategy employed a year ago, but the Gamecocks were able to run the ball until they got down close, twice turning the ball over on downs in goal to go situations.
The I-option attack of SCHS, which is averaging 438 yards per game with 338 of that coming on the ground, will be the first non-spread team the Warrior have faced but. “We are really young and inexperienced upfront,” said Duncan. “This will be a test.”
Continuing Duncan added, “They are the best team we have seen. They have a ton of seniors and are very fast and aggressive. We still have over half our season left. This game is not the end no matter what happens. Too many fine programs left in our region.
In last season’s region-title-deciding-tilt, the Gamecocks won on a pair of fourth-quarter scores, including the winner with 1:05 remaining. It was a game dominated by the Red and White everywhere, but on the scoreboard with 279 total yards to 102; 60 plays to 40; and a time of possession advantage (which mattered in this game) of 32:06 to 15:54.
Still it took a couple of fourth-quarter, fourth-down conversions, to win the game.
Now-senior tailback Malik Prescott rushed 26 times for 151 yards and a score. Current starters Alex Whatley, JT Hodges, and Tyquan Johnson had big receptions in the contest as well.
The series, led by Jefferson County 5-4, dates back to SCHS state playoff wins in 2002 and 2003 (neither remotely as close as the 47-20 and 42-32 scores would indicate) when JCHS was in Region 3AAA and the locals in 2AAA. The Warriors then rattled off five consecutive wins before the Roosters came back to win the last two (2011 and 2014), both in Louisville.
Nov. 21, 2003, was the last time the Gamecocks won in Kelly Memorial Stadium.