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Jefferson County here Friday for 4AA title tilt

Undefeated and sixth-ranked Jefferson County’s Warriors will invade Kelly Memorial Stadium this Friday night to face the undefeated and third-ranked (second in the GSWA poll) Screven County Gamecocks in a battle that will decide the Region 4AA championship. 

Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. in a matchup that will now determine a region championship for the fourth consecutive season, the second in a row at regular season’s end.

One of the most noteworthy contests in all of the state, the game will be one of only two contests featuring unbeaten teams. The other is in Region 8A where 9-0 and second-ranked Prince Avenue Christian hosts 9-0 and fourth-ranked Athens Academy.

There are five other games that matchup teams undefeated in region play, but not unbeaten overall. In three of those (Tucker v. Stephenson at Hallford Stadium in Clarkston in 4AAAAAA, Bainbridge at Warner Robins in 8AAAA, and Dawson County at GAC in 7AAA) both teams are ranked.

On paper it is the proverbial dream matchup.

Jefferson County, under Coach JB Arnold, the longest tenured coach in all of GHSA Class AA (17th season, 129-63-3) will bring with it a high-octane offense that is second in all of the state of Georgia, any classification, in scoring at 52.44 per game. 

The Gamecocks of Ron Duncan (6th season, 54-14, best winning percentage in SCHS history) will counter with the best defense in points allowed in all of the state of Georgia, any classification, at 4.13 per game.

Both of the teams have had highlight reels of a season as far as the numbers go but Duncan says, “I don't think those stats mean much when you are playing the game. We just have to focus on our assignments and playing hard.”

Given a contest that brings to mind the paradox of the irresistible force versus the immoveable object Duncan commented, “I just hope we play well. I’m not sure which I favor, but I’m always more concerned with who comes out on top. 2-0 or 50-49 doesn't matter as long as we play well. I’m sure Coach Arnold feels the same way.”

In reaching their status of scoring 472 points in nine games, Jeffco has gone over the 60 point mark in wins over Laney, Westside, and Butler while putting up 72 on Josey this past week.

Their non-region wins are over Savannah Christian (4-4 in 3A), Lakeside-Evans (2-7 in 3AAAAAA), and Washington-Wilkes (5-4 in 7A). 

Non-region opponents for SCHS have been 6-4 and South Carolina VIII AAA champion Wade Hampton and 6-3 and South Carolina VIII AAA runner-up Bluffton. Statesboro of 2AAAAA canceled their contest with the Gamecocks.

Seemingly the less noticed side of the ball tends to favor the Gamecocks. 

While they have not scored as much as their Warrior counterparts, the Rooster offense has been very successful as well, averaging 44 points and 445 yards per game. 

On the other side of the ball, the Warriors have given up 30 or more points three times in their wins. The majority of those points were not on the second team or late in the game.

“I hope our offense can do what it always does and that is find a way to points on the board,” said Duncan. “We will be challenged. Jeff Co is big and physical on both sides the ball.”

Jefferson County will run Arnold’s traditional spread and again it will feature a rotating pair of quarterbacks in senior CJ Hales and junior Jaden Jenkins. Each has gone over 1,000 yards in passing and are one and two on the team in rushing.

Unlike Gamecock quarterback Armani Bunbury (1,013 passing and 578 rushing), each of the Jefferson County QBs have played well into the fourth quarter of all of their games. For the Gamecocks, backup signal callers have been at QB for SCHS in the final period.

Hales (6-2, 210) does get the majority of playing time. Up 65-30 over Josey and 63-30 over Butler, Hales was still in the game accumulating yardage. In both instances, the contest was very late in the fourth quarter.

Bunbury has played in only one fourth quarter all season. 

Asked for the keys to the game, Duncan said, “I’m not sure there are any surprises left. We are both what we are at this point. I think the keys to the game for us are to play fast and play physical.” 

Friday night’s contest will be the 12th in a series led by Jeffco 6-5. The first two, in 2002 and 2003, were in the first round of the Class AAA state playoffs and easily won by the Gamecocks.

The Warriors then rattled off five consecutive victories. 

Now the Red and White has won three of the last four with three of those, including last season’s, determining a region title. SCHS won in 2014 and 2016 while Jeffco won in 2015.