Monday October 22nd, 2018 3:48AM

(VIDEO) Championship preview: Wildcats primed for historic ride in The Benz

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor

ATLANTA — All the magic and history of Rabun County's 2017 football season comes down to 48 minutes on Saturday in Atlanta.

And after storming to their first-ever state championship game and the Mercedes-Benz Stadium turf, the Wildcats are itching for one more shot at glory.

"This is a dream come true. Ever since you were a little kid you always dream of playing in a state championship game," Rabun County senior linebacker Gavyn Jones said. "Now we’ve worked all year; we’ve got that opportunity. And it’s time to go show out on Saturday."

Rabun knows that its final obstacle is an imposing one in Hapeville Charter, but after defying history and statewide expectations this postseason the Wildcats will trust to their abilities and chemistry.

"We believe in ourselves — that’s the first thing coach Shaw said six years ago when he came back is that he’s got to get the belief back in Rabun County. And everyone believes we can go down there and win it," Rabun senior quarterback Bailey Fisher said. "It just comes down to us executing the game, executing the game plan that the coaches lay out for us. And if we just keep playing Wildcat football we should be successful."

Wildcat football this season has been dominant on both sides of the ball.

Rabun enters the championship game (at 1 p.m. Saturday) with the No. 1 scoring offense (47.2 points per game) and No. 2 scoring defense (9.8 ppg) in Class AA and features playmakers on both sides.

Fisher will finish inside the GHSA's top 10 all-time leaders in career passing yardage and touchdown passes and has capped a brilliant career with another stellar season. The senior has 3,145 yards passing, 40 TDs and just 4 interceptions while completing 72 percent of his attempts. He also leads the team with 1,302 yards rushing and 27 scores. Cole Keener (52 receptions, 1,000 yards, 13 TDs) leads a receiving corps that includes five players with 20 or more receptions and eight that have caught scoring strikes.

Meanwhile, the Rabun defense feasts on mistakes. The Wildcats (14-0) have forced 35 turnovers so far this season -- including five interceptions in a 23-12 semifinal defeat of Brooks County -- and are yielding just 217.9 yards per game. Jones paces the unit with 136 total tackles, 12 for loss, while junior safety Austin Jones has 125 stops and 5 interceptions (Keener has 10 picks). Linebacker Dawson Henricks also has 117 tackles, 14.5 for loss.

Yet Rabun understands that Saturday's test will be unlike anything it has faced so far this season.

"You just kind of take the best, maybe, of everybody that we’ve played and put it together and that’s Hapeville Charter," Wildcats coach Lee Shaw said. "All-star team. They’ve got them. They’ve got them in every position — not just offense but defense and their special teams play — very well-coached but very, very athletic. There’s a lot of D-I talent all over the field, and that’s what we’re going to face, and we know that’s what we’re going to face. So we’ve got to play our best football."

The Hornets (13-1) feature a lightning-quick quarterback in Hajj-Malik Williams (2,239 yards passing, 22 TDs, 5 INTs, 65 percent completion rate; 237 yards rushing, 6 TDs) and a talented group of running backs, including ​Marcus Carroll (535 yards, 5 TDs) and Harper Atkins (560 yards, 5 TDs). Kivante Johnson (43 receptions, 795 yards, 5 TDs), Andunte Devereux (35 receptions, 528 yards, 2 TDs) and Rory Starkey (24 receptions, 464 yards, 8 TDs) have also terrorized opposing defensive backs to help Hapeville score 36.5 points per game.

"Offensively they may come out in an eye; they may come out in kind of a wing-T look, or they may just spread you out in an empty or one-back and let the quarterback work," Shaw said. "He’s a really good quarterback and a dual-threat kid. But he’s got weapons all over the field, so you can’t really just sit on him. You’ve just got to play great defense and trust your keys and reads and tendencies and go from there."

And as good as the offense is, the defense is the main attraction. The Hornets are the top scoring defense in Class AA, yielding a paltry 7.7 points per game and feature two future Southeastern Conference players in defensive back Christopher Smith (Georgia commit) and defensive end Kingsley Enagbare (South Carolina commit). Defensive lineman Caleb Kelley is also a highly-rated prospect.

"You’ve got to have some breaks; you’ve got to create your own breaks too. You’ve got to create some turnovers, possibly, field position, all the little things that coaches try to do," Shaw said. "And we’ve got to play hard. We’ve got to strike them, and that’s what we’ve been known for is to play great defense and put some points up on offense and be very efficient on special teams. But we can’t make mistakes; we can’t play behind the sticks. We’ve got to take advantage of opportunities, every opportunity we’ve got. And really kind of hold nothing back. This is the last game; there’s no next Monday practice, regardless, win or lose. This is it; this is what you coach for and play for, and a state championship opportunity. So you just try to do the best you can really."

The Wildcats best has astounded all season, making history for a program in its 69th season of play. And on Saturday, the kids from the northeastern most corner of the state hope to astound the rest of GHSA.


WHEN: 1 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta
RABUN: 14-0, Region 8-AA champ
HAPEVILLE: 13-1, Region 6-AA champ

  • Associated Categories: Sports, High School Sports, Friday Game Night
  • Associated Tags: High school football, Rabun County football
© Copyright 2018
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Kennesaw State falls to Sam Houston in FCS quarterfinals
Jeremiah Briscoe threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns and Sam Houston State held off Kennesaw State for a 34-27 victory in an FCS quarterfinal on Saturday night...
8:08AM ( 19 hours ago )
Bazemore, Ilyasova lead Hawks past Magic, 117-110
Ersan Ilyasova was flawless almost from start to finish Saturday night, and Kent Bazemore was perfect in the final minute for the Atlanta Hawks. They needed it to overcome Nikola Vucevic's first career triple-double...
11:53PM ( 1 day ago )
North Georgia falls to SEC's Mississippi St.
Quinndary Weatherspoon had a season-high 22 points and Mississippi State remained undefeated with a 95-62 victory Saturday over Division II North Georgia at Humphrey Coliseum...
7:23PM ( 1 day ago )
Winter weather cancels Friday night contests in northeast Georgia
The winter weather enveloping northeast Georgia has forced the cancellation of high school sporting events scheduled for Friday night.
12:32PM ( 2 days ago )
(VIDEO) Championship preview: Wildcats primed for historic ride in The Benz
All the magic and history of Rabun County's 2017 football season comes down to 48 minutes on Saturday in Atlanta...
11:13AM ( 2 days ago )
Prep Talk podcast with Morgan Lee and Katie B. (12-7-17)
The 2017 high school football season ends this weekend as 16 teams descend upon Mercedes Benz Stadium to play for state championships. Two of the 16 hail from our coverage area and in this week's edition of the Prep Talk podcast, AccessWDUN sports editor Morgan Lee and Katie B. discuss Rabun County's and North Gwinnett's roads to the title tilt, and Buford's being denied an 11th straight shot at state.
9:39AM ( 2 days ago )
High School Sports
8-AA football coaches select All-Region teams, honors
The football coaches of Region 8-AA recently named their 2017 season All-Region teams and postseason honors...
6:06PM ( 6 days ago )
5 things: What we learned from the state football semifinals
Here's a look at five things we learned from the state football playoff semifinals...
1:50PM ( 6 days ago )
Semifinals: History made, re-visited as two area programs march on to championship games
History was made for the second week in a row for one program and another area team made it back to the brightest lights of all, as two of three northeast Georgia football programs marched through to next weekend's state championship weekend in Atlanta.
8:43AM ( 1 week ago )
Friday Game Night
2017 high school football region standings
By AccessWDUN Staff
7:00AM ( 3 days from now )
2017 high school football state rankings
By AccessWDUN Staff
7:00AM ( 3 days from now )
UPDATE: North Gwinnett, Rabun County will play title games Friday at home
Rabun County AND North Gwinnett football will have to wait an extra week to play for their first state championships -- but at least they will get to do so on home turf...
12:58PM ( 1 day ago )
(VIDEO) Championship preview: Bulldogs focused on Packers, once again facing down adversity
North Gwinnett knows well about battling -- and overcoming -- adversity...
7:05AM ( 1 day ago )
(UPDATED) Cherokee Bluff lines up Dacula's Jones to inaugurate football program
Cherokee Bluff football may not even officially exist yet, but the Bears are already looking at a veteran head coach...
By AccessWDUN Staff
2:04PM ( 3 days ago )