Rabun County enters the second round of the playoffs in exactly the position they expect to be each season: at home and playing as one of the top contenders in Class 2A. The Wildcats are coming off of their seventh consecutive region championship and the only accolade they haven't accrued in what has unquestionably been the best stretch of football in school history is a state championship.
They're looking to move one step closer to that tonight as they host Model at Frank Snyder Stadium in Tiger. Head coach Jaybo Shaw spoke with AccessWDUN on Thursday to talk about last week's playoff opener, tonight's contest and how he feels about this year's Rabun County team:
On the team's 35-7 win over Haralson County in the first round last Saturday:
"I think anybody that's been following 2A football for a little while realized that Haralson's really not a four seed. They were really one win away in the last regular game of the season to be that one or two seed, so we knew going in it would be our toughest first-round game since, really, all of us got here, so I was really proud of our football team. We knew what they wanted to do was obviously run the football and control the clock and we started out really fast. Scored 14 points really quick after the defense forced two three-and-outs on the first two drives and that was what needed to happen for us. We kind of put them in a world that they didn't want to live in as far as some long third downs. Our defense was really the key and to be able to stop the run like we did, any time you look at our history, that's what's kind of been our burden in the playoffs is a team that can just line up and run the football."
Do you feel like the defense has progressed as you wanted it to after some early-season struggles?
"Yeah, I really do. We shuffled some things around after the early season and we played some explosive offenses with Prince Avenue Christian and Jefferson. We shuffled some things around and kind of just got back to basics. They're playing at a high level right now. They're swarming to the football, things that we hang our hat on. I think anybody would agree, that has some football knowledge, that when you have a defense that can get 11 hats around the football and play assignment football and play with eye-discipline and know where to line up, then you're going to have a successful defense. I'm just really proud of our guys. We've got a ton of guys that have played a lot of football for us that know our system and know what we want to do on defense. Coach Stockton and our defensive staff are doing an unbelievable job right now. If you want to keep winning in the playoffs, you're going to have to be very good on defense and you're going to have to stop the run."
You scored 35 points against Haralson County, which would be great by most programs' standards, but it was a bit of a decline in output for your unit given the numbers they've put up thus far this season. How did you feel about your offense's performance?
"We started really fast, which anybody that knows us knows we're going to try to come out of the gate swinging and try to jump on somebody. I think we did that. Really in the third quarter, in my mind, was a championship moment. It was a time that we showed our maturity, showed that we were built for this. Haralson's offense drove it from their own 10 the whole way down the field and got inside our 10 and we had a goal-line stand. We turned around on offense, knowing our defense was worn out a little bit, I think it was a 14 or 15-play drive on Haralson's part and I think there were three minutes left in the third quarter when we got it, and we went on an 18-play drive on offense and ended up scoring a touchdown. Haralson got the ball with about four minutes left in the fourth quarter. We're very explosive, but I thought that was a huge moment for our offense to be able to run the football, convert third and fourth downs and have an 18-play drive which I don't know if we've had in a very long time."
On second-round matchup with Model:
"Model's riding some momentum right now. They like to run the football, I think their back (Joseph Wallace) had 31 carries last week for about 190 yards last week, so they're going to want to run the football and they play extremely hard. They're in the second round for a reason and we're going to have to be very sound on defense again and be able to go score points on offense when we have the football. The biggest thing for them right now is they're riding a lot of momentum. Thank goodness we've got them at home and they've got to come to Tiger."
You will be favored again Friday night and expectations at Rabun County are much higher than the second round. Between that and knowing you're guaranteed a home game next week if you win, do you have any concerns about this being a 'trap game'?
"We addressed that on Sunday when we brought our starters and everybody in to review film from the previous night. I hate the old football clichés because everybody in the country can use them, but really for us this week it's about us. Making sure we represent our county proud, making sure we represent our region and really representing each other and playing for each other and playing for the brotherhood. I think it helps when we're at home. We've got a lot of guys that have played a lot of football. Strong leaders like a Gunner Stockton and a Brody Jarrard and other guys that have been with us for a really long time. We've got guys that have been coaching for 30 years and guys that are my age that have seen a lot of things and been on the other end of some trap games. Just being able to give these guys some experience and making sure it's more about the 'Cats and more about us and making sure we handle our own business. We'll go play wherever we need to go play and play whoever we need to play. As a coach, you always are concerned in making sure your football team is ready to go and I do feel like we are ready. We're looking forward to Friday night."
On keys to a win tonight:
"It'll always start with playing our brand of football, which is going to be fast and physical and with relentless effort. Those are three things we will always hang our hat on. If we don't do those three things, we're not going to give ourselves a chance to win the football game. It starts there and then obviously, as I talked about a little bit before, you've got to stop the run in the playoffs. You can't turn the football over and you've got to win on third down when you're on offense. When you really break down playoff games, when we've won or lost or whatever may be. Easier said than done, but those are the keys for us moving forward."