The Jefferson-Creekside Class 5A semifinal showdown on Friday could be one of the hardest hitting matchups in the state in any classification.
But you won’t have to tell Flowery Branch coach Jason Tester that. He’s seen both teams up-close-and-personal.
Clarke Central head coach David Perno also has direct first-hand knowledge of both. Perno’s Gladiators would have played Creekside in the first round had they made the playoffs and spent two weeks scouting the Seminoles.
The two juggernauts meet at Arrowhead Stadium (The Swamp) in Fairburn with the winner moving into the state championship game against the Cartersville-Coffee County winner on Dec. 13 at 4 p.m. at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
AccessWDUN Sports/Friday Game Night talked to both Tester and Perno about the looming showdown.
“I think you have the two best teams going against each other in the semis, which is exactly what you want,” Tester said. “Both teams are so physical. Tough matchups for anybody, including each other.”
“We played Gainesville and Jefferson in back-to-back games. We were already banged up after the Gainesville game. Jefferson finished us off,” Perno said. “Jefferson was very, very physical, especially with the style they play and seeing Sammy (Brown) running downhill at you. Very tough to stop.”
The Falcons lost 41-13 to the Dragons on Oct. 13 during the Region 8-5A regular season. They lost 63-6 to the Seminoles in the first round of the state playoffs. Jefferson beat Clarke Central 22-14 on Sept. 22 at Memorial Stadium.
Both Jefferson and Creekside have dominated their first three postseason opponents, winning each of their first three playoff games by 21 or more points.
The Dragons (13-0) will obviously try to pound the ball behind 5A-leading rusher and Clemson-commit Brown (2,140 yards, 35 TDs) while the Seminoles (12-1) will look to senior quarterback Vinson Berry (2,188 yards, 38 TD, 4 INT) and senior running back Roderick McCrary, who is third in rushing with 1,885 yards and 12 TDs.
Both teams possess punishing defenses as well. Jefferson is 4th in 5A allowing just 10.69 ppg behind Brown, who also leads 5A in tackles with 123. Creekside has given up the most of any of the remaining teams in the 5A field (219, 25.38 ppg) but have yielded just 11.9 ppg since their only loss to Mater Dei (CA).
Creekside has 76 TFL, including 37 sacks, and has forced 29 turnovers (18 INT, 11 fumbles) on the season. The Dragons counter with a defense that has 66 TFL, including 24 sacks and 17 takeaways.
“When you get to this stage of the playoffs, teams are going to do what they do. And it's up to the other team to stop them. So I think it should be a great matchup,” Tester said.
“It's a tight matchup for sure,” Perno said. “I mean, it's gonna be a very physical game. Both of them are athletic, physical, long, and can make plays from everywhere.”
With both teams wanting to establish the running game, the offensive lines will take center-stage. Both Tester and Perno agreed.
“I see both offensive lines as being kind of their strengths,” Tester said. “I would give the slight edge to Jefferson, just based upon what they do. But Creekside is more balanced with their approach.”
Perno said whichever team wins the physicality war would most likely be headed to the title game. But he said the X-factor could be Brown in the passing game.
“He hurt us running the ball, but his two biggest plays were on passes out of the backfield,” Perno said. “One of them came on a 3rd-and-12 and we lose him out of the backfield. He took a little 4-yard pass in space, he made our guy miss, and he’s gone for 45 yards. On another third down, 15 yards I think, they run the same play, we lose him again, and he gets it all the way down in the red zone.
“You get so focused on (Jefferson’s) running game, but they have shown they can beat you with the pass. That puts a lot of pressure on your defense.”
One of the more intriguing individual matchups will be the Jefferson secondary vs. the Creekside passing game. Tester saw just how explosive the Seminoles can be.
“The focus offensively for them goes through the quarterback,” Tester said. “They don't have just one or two guys. They spread the ball around pretty well, the running backs are fast, run hard, and are tough to bring down.
“They got (receivers) that run great routes and are a threat anytime. To be able to slow them down you have to be physical upfront. Jefferson can do that but to me (the secondary vs. the receivers) is a key matchup in the game.”
However, the Dragons have Brown and both Tester and Perno admit, slowing him down may be the key to the game for both teams.
“Sammy is the question that Creekside has to be able to answer. That’s point blank with any team that plays Jefferson. You’ve got to be able to stop him,” Tester said. “But that’s easier said than done. No one really has this year.”
“Obviously, Creekside has got to slow (him) down. But your offense has got to hit a couple big plays,” Perno said. “The remedy against Jefferson is if you make them play catch up. That's how they got beat last year (by Cass).
“For Creekside, you need a fast start and just hang in there and bring people to the point of attack against Sammy. You can't expect to bring him down with one guy. You cannot let Sammy just jam it down your throat. If he gets 15 or 20 carries for like 160 (yards) or more, that's definitely going to work in Jefferson's favor.”