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."