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Rabun County here for top 5 Class AA Elite Eight matchup

Bringing with them one of the most decorated quarterbacks and prolific offensives in GHSA history, the 12-0, Region 8AA champion Rabun County High School Wildcats will make the nearly 220-mile trip to Kelly Memorial Stadium this Friday night. 

Awaiting the ‘Cats, who finished the Georgia High School Football Daily cumulative regular season poll at fifth, will be the third-ranked, 11-0 Region 4AA champion Screven County High School Gamecocks.

Kickoff time for the state quarterfinal matchup is set for 7:30 p.m. and tickets will be $12 each. Ticket prices are set by the GHSA and only GHSA passes will be honored.

The winner of the game will host the winner of the quarterfinal matchup in Quitman between Brooks County and Callaway on Dec. 1. Both are No. 2 seeds from 2AA and 5AA, respectively.

This matchup is topped by only the stated-ranked No. 1 Benedictine against No. 2 Hapeville “Football” Charter contest at Savannah State’s T.A. Wright Stadium from among the eight quarterfinal matchups in AA Friday.

In addition to the rankings, only Benedictine has won more games in AA over the past four seasons than the Gamecocks and the Wildcats as both teams are 42-6 over the span.

Benedictine is 52-3. Now-ousted Fitzgerald is 42-13 in the same span. 

It is Jefferson County (2015) and Fitzgerald (2016) who have ousted RCHS in the quarterfinals the past two seasons. Callaway, who defeated the Roosters at this point last season, is 41-9 in the same span, but nearly half of those wins were in AAA during the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

Asked about the significance of this game with all of the hoopla surrounding it, SCHS head coach Ron Duncan said simply, “Every game in the playoffs is big because if you lose you are packing up your equipment.”

Rabun reached this point with playoff wins over 7AA fourth-seed Chattooga 49-6 and 6AA runner-up BEST Academy 35-2. 

During the regular season, RCHS rolled through their six-game 8AA schedule with their closest game a 35-7 win over second place Elbert County. The region did send a 2-8 team (Monticello) as its fourth seed.

Early non-region play saw wins over 8AAAA Stephens County; a pair of 7AAAAs in White County and West Hall; and 6A Mount Pisgah Christian.

Friday’s matchup will feature the top scoring offense in the state for Class AA in Rabun at 48.5 and the second best scoring defense in Screven County at 7.27. Hapeville Charter now leads AA at 5.92.

This will mark the second time this season that the top scoring offense in AA has come to Kelly Memorial Stadium. When Jeffco came on Nov. 3 to play for the 4AA title, they were averaging exactly 50 per game and scored 20.

From their spread offense, the Wildcats will present a contrast to the Gamecocks and their multi-faceted offense that bases out of the I-formation. 

To get to their 48 points per game, Rabun records 407 yards per game with 58 percent coming through the air. For SCHS, who records 415 yards per game, 58 percent come on the ground.

The two teams also are one and two in AA for margin of victory as RCHS margin is at 39.25 with Screven’s being at 35.73.

The pass-first option for Rabun exists because of senior 6-foot, 190-pound quarterback Bailey Fisher.

This season Fisher has thrown for better than 2,700 yards and more than 30 scores. On his career, this is Fisher’s third year as a starter as he has nearly 9,000 yards passing and well over 100 TD passes. 

Fisher is just the fifth quarterback in Georgia history to throw for triple digits in scoring tosses. Despite all of the passing yards from more than 550 completions, Fisher also is the leading rusher this season with nearly 1,000 yards rushing and 21 scores. A season ago he rushed for 1,029 and another 21 scores and was second on the team in rushing.

With all of Fisher’s numbers it would seem as if they are a one-dimensional. 

Duncan said nothing is farther from the truth, “They are not one-dimensional and have a very good skill set and are very good upfront.”

In terms of a high-powered offense, the only things SCHS fans have seen even close is the Jefferson County offense but Duncan is quick to say, “They are a lot different than Jeffco. They run a system offense (Tony Franklin System), They have built in pass options to most all of their run game and they have a three-year starter at quarterback that is one of the best in state history.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the Wildcats are none too shabby either as they are second in AA in points allowed per game at 9.25. They have held three of their opponents (Elbert County, Stephens County, and Putnam County) to their lowest point total of the season, while they have four (West Hall, Banks County, Monticello, and B.E.S.T. Academy) to their second lowest point totals of the season. 

“They are very physical on defense and play extremely hard,” explained Duncan. “They run an odd stack and they have great players.”

Maybe one of the biggest significances to the game is that it is at Kelly Memorial Stadium. With both teams as No. 1 seeds, a coin flip in the GHSA office in Thomaston was implemented for all such games across the state and all classification.

The universal one toss (instead of a separate flip for every such game), on Nov. 17 at noon was for either the top or the bottom of the bracket to serve as the home team. The bottom won and SCHS is at the bottom of the bracket.

“It is a huge advantage playing at home,” said Duncan quickly. “Last week’s crowd was vocal and outstanding. You can't underestimate what that means to our players. Rabun travels well and we will need our fans again this week.” 

Rabun County and Screven County have never met on the gridiron. 

This will be the fifth quarterfinal contest for the Gamecocks, the fourth under the current playoff format. Three of the five SCHS trips to the semifinals came when there was not a quarterfinal round. The Roosters are 2-2 in this round, 1-2 at Kelly Memorial. 

A year ago Callaway took a 35-34 win, while in 2002 the Red and White defeated LaGrange 15-14. Cedartown defeated the Gamecocks 38-20 at Kelly Memorial in 2001, while in 1994 in Dublin SCHS was a winner over West Laurens 35-17.  The Wildcats have neither won a quarterfinal contest nor played in a semifinal game.