Tuesday March 5th, 2024 9:24AM

Football: Creekside poses big-time threat to Jefferson's title hopes

By Bo Wilson Sports Editor

Travis Noland said Creekside might be as talented of an opponent as he's ever faced.

In his second season leading the program, the Jefferson head coach has his Dragons ready to play the Seminoles on Friday in the semifinals of the Class 5A playoffs. 

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and can be heard live on AM 550/FM 102.9 WDUN. You can also stream the game at accesswdun.com. 

"Creekside might be as talented of an opponent that I've ever faced as a head coach at any school and in any classification," Noland said. "They are really, really good, and so, it's going to be a tough test for us." 

While it is the toughest test of the season for the Dragons, it's not a cakewalk for Creekside either. 

Seminoles coach Maurice Dixon said the Dragons' methodical rushing approach concerns him. 

"They are really, really good up front," Dixon said. "With their running game, they'll lull you to sleep, and somebody will be wide open downfield. So, there's a methodical approach that they play. They're never really going to be out of the game because they keep coming and coming." 

The Dragons' rushing attack is their bread and butter. As Noland says, "It's who we are." 

Jefferson has started slow in the first three rounds of the playoffs, but halftime adjustments have resulted in blowouts for the Dragons. Noland always says it's not how they start but how they finish, and that's been the calling card all season. 

But he does realize the methodical approach of the offense will be tested by the Seminoles' swarming defense. It could spell disaster against an explosive Creekside offense if the Dragons' drives end shy of the end zone too often in the first half. 

"We've had this in multiple games where it takes the first quarter," Noland said. "You don't just bust that egg on the opening drive most times. You have to keep pounding and being patient. When you play a team like Creekside that's so explosive offensively, the hard part is trying not to get too far behind in the process. So, we have to try to execute and do what we've done well and be who we are." 

The Dragons have plenty of firepower on both sides of the ball. Clemson-commit Sammy Browns (2,140 yards, 35 TDs, 141 tackles) leads the Dragons in rushing and tackles. But fellow linebackers Ryan Hemphill (118 tkls, 14 TFLs) and Jaden Yang (111 tkls) have been key as well. 

The trenches could be where the game is won on Friday, especially if Mother Nature decides to rain on the parade as forecasted. 

Brain Senter, John Morgan Kinney, Ty Oglesby, Bryant Cox and Ashley Eckert will have their hands full with the stunting front seven of the Seminoles.

Creekside linebacker Roderick McCrary, defensive end Shumond Johnson, and defensive tackle Jordan Cardentey lead the team in tackles and tackles for a loss. Johnson is the team's sack leader with nine. Creekside has recorded 37 sacks, 25 QB hurries, and 29 takeaways.

"Their front seven is as good as we've faced," Noland said. "It's going to be a challenge for us to do what we do, but we've gotten to this point by being who we are." 

Defensively, the Dragons will face the most balanced offense they've battled this year. The Seminoles thrive off the play-action pass with QB Vinson Berry (2,188 yards passing and 38 TDs to just 4 INTs), which sets up some explosive runs for leading rusher Roderick McCrary (1,885 yards and 12 TDs).

"Their quarterback is really, really accurate and talented," Noland said. "Even if they have the run game going, there's always the stress of him making a play with his arm." 

If the Dragons are to dance into the championship game for the second time in three years, Noland says they have to stay true to who they are as a team.

"We can't hit the panic button if they make a few plays early," he said. We can't get away from what we do best. We're going to stay true to who we are, try to take care of the football, and eliminate mistakes to give ourselves a chance to get to the fourth quarter and win the game." 

Records: Dragons (13-0, No. 1 Region 8-5A); Seminoles (12-1, No. 1 seed Region 5-5A)
Last week: Jefferson beat Harris County, 35-12; Creekside beat Warner Robins, 35-14
Where: Fairburn, Arrowhead Stadium (The Swamp)
Radio: WDUN 102.9 FM
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: First-ever meeting between the two schools. The Seminoles are into their second semifinal in three years. The Dragons are into their second semifinal since 2020. This has the makings for an offensive shootout. The Seminoles lead Class 5A in scoring (549, 42.23 ppg), while Jefferson is 3rd (515, 39.62 ppg). Jefferson RB Sammy Brown leads 5A in rushing (2,140 yards, 35 TDs), and the Seminoles' Roderick McCrary is 3rd in rushing with 1,885 yards and 12 TDs. Creekside is more balanced, averaging 182 yards/game passing behind Sr. QB Vinson Berry, who has 2,188 yards passing and 38 TDs to just 4 INTs on the season. Shane Kelley leads the 'Noles with 1,030 yards receiving. But both defenses are stout. Jefferson is 4th in 5A, allowing just 10.69 ppg behind Brown, who also leads 5A in tackles with 141. Creekside has given up the most of any of the remaining teams in the 5A field (219, 25.38 ppg) but has yielded just 11.9 ppg since their only loss to Mater Dei (CA).
What to watch for: The Jefferson defense vs. the Creekside offense. The Dragons have struggled early in each of the first three playoff games, and they cannot let the Seminoles, who have scored 35 or more in 7 straight games, get a quick jump on them. Brown and the rest of the Dragons defense, which has 66 TFL, including 24 sacks and 17 takeaways, will have to find a way to slow them down to allow the offense a chance to grind out some drives and shorten the game.

  • Associated Categories: Sports, High School Sports, Friday Game Night
  • Associated Tags: High school football, Jefferson football, Creekside football
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