TIGER — For Rabun County, the 2020 season is the sixth straight season it has been to the quarterfinals of the Georgia High School Association Class 2A playoffs. Only once in the previous five (2017), however, have the Wildcats been able to move on.
They will take on Bleckley County at home on Friday night looking to advance to the semifinals. The two teams have never met.
In all five of the previous meetings, they came in with one of the state’s most explosive offenses. This year is no exception as the Wildcats lead the entire state, regardless of classification, in points scored (577, 48.0 ppg) behind junior quarterback Gunnar Stockton, who is now third all-time in Georgia in TD passes (120) and senior wide receiver Adriel Clark, who has tied the all-time state record for TD catches in a season (27).
Coach Jaybo Shaw and his staff have continued the legacy his father Lee Shaw built. But they understand nothing is guaranteed.
The Royals are the only No. 4 seed left in the entire GHSA playoffs, all classifications, and are just one of five teams to snag two road wins so far in the 2020 playoffs.
But Rabun has won its last four home playoff games since a 28-17 quarterfinals loss to Fitzgerald in 2018 in Stockton’s freshman season. The Wildcats are 11-1 at home overall since that loss.
AccessWDUN talked to Shaw this week to get his thoughts on his explosive team, Bleckley County, and what his Wildcats will need to do to continue their quest for a second trip to the semifinals.
QUESTION: Coach, we appreciate the time. This is the first-ever meeting between the two programs. Does it help or hurt in preparation for either team when teams have never played each other? How important does film work become?
ANSWER: We do not look at it as a positive or negative. We take the approach of preparing like we always do against an opponent. We pride ourselves on our preparation and film study. We obviously know when you get to this point in the season everybody is good and still playing for a reason.
QUESTION: Class 2A appears balanced with five region champs advancing but also with the most wins by lower-seeded teams than any other classification (8) through the first two rounds. Higher-seeded teams are only winning at a .667 clip compared to about 81 percent for the other seven classifications. Is that a stat that jumps out at you as y’all prepare for the only No. 4 seed left in the entire state? How tough is the remaining 2A field with teams like Fannin County, Fitzgerald, and Thomasville, who y’all could see in the semifinals if you advance?
ANSWER: We do not look at Bleckley County as a (No.) 4 seed. They had a couple of bad breaks late in their region play and ended up being the four-seed but they are a lot better than that seeding. It is very evident when you watch them on film why they were a top 5 ranked team for most of the season. Like I mentioned earlier, all the teams that are left playing are really good football teams with great coaching and tremendous players. I believe that some of the best all-around football is played and coached at this level because of coaches maximizing the talent they have and players playing in all three phases of the game. We have a ton of respect for the remaining Class AA teams.
QUESTION: The Royals have shown that they are not afraid of taking road trips. They are one of just five teams in the entire GHSA playoffs to snag two road wins in the first two rounds. Teams play to get the home field in the playoffs. How big of a factor is that in the playoffs at this stage?
ANSWER: Obviously everybody wants to play at home during the playoffs because of the atmosphere you can create. We are excited about the opportunity to play a quarterfinal game at home in front of our community. I am proud of the guys on our football team because they have put themselves in a situation to play a huge playoff game at home. I do think it plays a major role but you still have to go out and play well. Bleckley County has a lot of momentum right now and has shown that they can win on the road. We have a lot of respect for Coach Lassiter and his football team.
QUESTION: Y’alls offense may be the most potent it's ever been. Y’all lead the entire state in points scored. Bleckley County has the second-worst defense (213 points, 19.3 ppg) of the playoff teams left in 2A. Is that the key matchup or is it the kind of stat that can be misleading, and dangerous as a heavy favorite?
ANSWER: At this point in the year, we do not put a lot of stock in those types of stats because when it really boils down to it, you have to play your best football at the right time which is right now. The things you have done up to this point as far as stats go are irrelevant. Don't get me wrong, I am very proud of the way our offense has executed all season long and how we have been able to be very explosive at times, but our team realizes that we have to be great now and that we can't dwell on what we have done in the past. Bleckley County has a very talented defense and we expect it to be a great football game on Friday night.
QUESTION: Jr. QB Gunnar Stockton (2,842 yards, 43 TD, 1 INT) and Sr. WR Adriel Clark Clark (63 rec., 1,393 yards, 27 TD) make up the state’s most dangerous passing combo. Clark’s 27 TD grabs have tied the state record for most TD catches in a season (Demarco Robinson, ML King, 2010). What is making that duo so special this year and can they be stopped by any conventional method of defense?
ANSWER: Gunner has been SPECIAL this year! He continues to show why he is the No. 1 Dual-threat QB in the entire country. He works extremely hard during the week in his game preparation, We put a lot of weight on Gunner and he has been fantastic this year. I am so proud of the year that he is having. I know he is very excited about the opportunity of playing in another quarterfinal game, especially it being at home in front of our community. Adriel has had a very special year and I am very proud of the success that he has been able to have. He has bought into our culture and what we stand for at Rabun County. More importantly, those two guys know that there are multiple guys that help lead to that type of success. This is our best overall offensive line that we have ever had, which is led by Will McCraw at right tackle, and all five of them are juniors as well. The other WR's have been so productive in ways that may not always show up on the stat sheet. They are so selfless and I could not be more proud of that group. Our RB, Lang Windham, has been so explosive (1,233 yards, 12 TD, 6 100-yard games; 38 rec., 481 yards, 5 TD) in the run game as well as the passing game. It has been a lot of fun watching him get better and better every week. All of those guys are major factors that go into us having a balanced offensive attack. I can promise you one thing, the only stat that any of those guys care about is WINNING.
QUESTION: But all the offense aside, the defense has always held the key to y’all making deep playoff runs. The quarterfinals have been the issue, especially against power-running teams. This year’s group, however, has looked impressive holding two good rushing attacks in Haralson County and Model in the first two rounds to just 7 total points. What has been the difference this year and is this group capable of carrying y’all to the title game?
ANSWER: I LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT OUR DEFENSE. Coach Stockton and the defensive staff continue to put our guys in the best possible position to be successful. That group, like our entire team, plays for each other, plays for the "Brotherhood", and plays for all of Rabun County. Our defense prides itself on being extremely well-coached, running to the football and arriving with bad intentions, and most importantly, playing with relentless effort for however many snaps that we play on defense. They do not care who makes the play or who gets the credit ... all they care about is winning, representing each other with pride, and representing Rabun County the way we should: fast, physical, and playing with relentless effort for the guy beside you. All our focus is on this quarterfinal game right now. Nobody in this football program is looking past this game coming up on Friday night so my thoughts about a title game right now are irrelevant.