Sunday February 14th, 2016 7:43AM

Youth answers the bell for Wildcats, setting up for stretch run

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
TIGER -- Two months ago Hunter Sims was a third-string quarterback simply looking for a place to make an impact for Rabun County football.

Last Friday, Sims made the quite impact indeed, passing for 155 yards and a touchdown and also rushing for 135 yards and a score as helped the Wildcats to a 42-18 defeat of arch-rival Union County. The win also gave Rabun the inside track to the No. 3 seed from Region 8-AA for the upcoming state playoffs.

Not bad for a first start under center.

"He could not have performed better in those circumstances," Wildcats coach Lee Shaw said after a thumb injury to senior quarterback Wes Holcombe forced Sims into the spotlight (he had already become the top back-up after Collin Grant injured his knee early in the season). "He really is a dual-threat kid, and gives us some great options with his legs in the read-option."

It doesn't hurt when you have a Charlie Woerner to hand the ball off to either.

Also faced with injury to starting running back Dan Dailey, Rabun shifted their sophomore standout from receiver to running back. It was a position Woerner had tasted earlier in the season, but considering the circumstances surrounding last week's game -- the Wildcats (6-2, 3-2 Region 8-AA) were coming off two straight road losses and knew that a loss to the Panthers would likely mean a No. 4 seed for the state playoffs -- Shaw made the decision to get Woerner's hands on the ball early and often.

It was a decision that paid huge dividends.

Woerner exploded on Union County, rushing for 236 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries, while also catching two passes for 53 yards. For good measure he also picked off two passes from his safety position, demonstrating why the athlete was a preseason All-State selection.

"You could play Charlie anywhere and he would make plays," Shaw sad. "Charlie is a quiet kid that doesn't like to give interviews and is really humble... But when the ball is snapped he is a different kid -- it's not a cockiness, just a confidence that he can get the job done."

Woerner had shown, in flashes, that he was up to the task, averaging over 115 yards per game on just five-six touches, and -- with plenty in the balance -- Rabun's coaches wanted to make the most of that ability.

"We knew we had to get him the ball more, either as a "wildcat" quarterback or as a running back," Shaw said.

And now a Rabun County program that is still building in Shaw's second season has both a bright future behind a freshman quarterback and sophomore athlete and some quality depth.

"In (Class) AA ball, you still have to piecemeal some things, especially on the line of scrimmage," Shaw said. "But it was big that we had some quality skill guys that could step into big roles."

Those roles will be expanded the rest of the way, especially for Hunter Sims -- the younger brother of former Gainesville standout and current Alabama player Blake Sims -- who now becomes the full-time starter at quarterback. (Holcombe's season is not finished, however, as the senior has moved over to play cornerback, where he can still be effective despite his injury -- and Shaw noted that Holcombe was constantly talking with Sims on Friday, helping him excel in the situation.)

Woerner will certainly feature in Rabun's remaining contests, including Friday's home game versus Greene County, and the Wildcats still have plenty to prove -- including cementing the program's first back-to-back state playoff berths in a long time -- certainly longer than Shaw knows of.

"I'm not even sure that's happened. I'm still researching that," Shaw said. "I'm really proud of how the guys have responded to the adversity we've faced. We went toe-to-toe with Jefferson and lost in a physical game in overtime. That one hurt, but the players saw how close they were and know they can be great now."

The Wildcats are also gunning for their best regular season record in Class AA since 1989 (when Rabun finished 8-3), while another victory Friday would make Rabun undefeated at home in 2013.

"It's been a good season so far, but we feel like we're ready for more, and Region 8-AA has definitely helped prepare us for that," Shaw said.

It certainly looks to have prepped two of the youngest Wildcats for big things.
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