Rebels, Panthers meet in early-season litmus test

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
Posted 8:14AM on Wednesday 11th September 2019 ( 8 months ago )

BLAIRSVILLE — Defenses beware Friday night in Blue Ridge.

Two of northeast Georgia’s best offenses will be looking to continue hot starts when Union County (2-0) heads to Rebel Stadium to take on Fannin County (2-0) in one of the marquee matchups of the night in the area.

The Panthers, behind quarterback Pierson Allison and receivers Kyle Morlock, Sawyer Drake, and Cayden Rich, bring in a unit averaging 54.9 points a game, which leads all of Class 2A in scoring average. Allison has thrown for 369 yards and 4 TDs in limited duty. Drake has 7 catches for 99 yards, Morlock has 5 catches for 128 yards, and Mason McCombs has 5 catches for 60 yards. Five different receivers have touchdown catches so far.

The Rebels counter with an offense averaging 41.5 ppg, which is good for third in Class 3A in scoring average. Junior quarterback Luke Holloway has thrown for 433 yards and 4 TDs in the first two games. He has added 109 yards and three scores on the ground to complement senior running back Treylyn Owensby, who has 199 yards rushing in the early going. 

However, both teams also feature defensive units that have been hard to crack so far. Fannin County has allowed just 23 points in wins over Gilmer and Lafayette. Union County has yielded just 15 points in wins over East Hall and Towns County.

Longtime Union County coach Brian Allison did not hesitate when asked which area is of more concern.

“The challenge will be on the defenses, no question. To me that is the big challenge of the game,” Allison said. “Which defense can make some stops. (Fannin County) is huge upfront and their run game is very physical. And they have several deep threats in the passing game. We’re small on the defensive line so we’re going to have to find a way to make some plays.”

Second-year Fannin County coach Chad Cheatham said their game plan is a simple one.

“We have to keep the ball out of Pierson’s hands,” Cheatham said. “They have those receivers like Morlock and Drake and they run the ball very well. For us, I feel like we’re going to have to slow it down a little when we have the ball on offense. We need to limit their plays by shortening the game and we have to get off the field on third down on defense.”

But with Pierson Allison and Company, perhaps the best defense for the Panthers may also be an unstoppable offense. Running back Johan Daniel had 180 yards and three touchdowns in their 50-0 win over East Hall two weeks ago to complement the passing attack.

“Our guys have been playing together a long time, which helps,” Allison said. “If we can make teams defend sideline-to-sideline then they have to make a decision: stop the passing game or the run game.

“They have gotten better each year but there is always room to improve. I still don’t think we’re clicking like last year yet. That’s what we’re looking for this week.”

The Rebels defense has been hawkish forcing six turnovers -- three fumbles and three interceptions -- in its first two games. They are a plus-5 in turnover ratio.

That has helped Fannin County to its first 2-0 start since 2008. However, the Rebels have not opened a season 3-0 since 2005. Union County, however, did not commit a turnover in its first two games.

“We’ve played pretty well on defense but this game by far will be the toughest test for us to this point,” Cheatham said. “It’s a big game for us. Kind of a litmus test to see where we are; to see how good we are.”

History may be on the Panthers side. Union County has opened the last five seasons 3-0, including winning five straight and 7 of the last 8 over the Rebels in the series.

“I don’t think it matters how many we’ve won in a row over them,” Allison said. “Fannin County is playing with a different level of confidence this year. It’s their second year with new coaches. Coach Cheatham and his staff are doing a great job. It’s no surprise to me that they have stepped up so far this year.”

“They’ve had our number for a few years, that’s for sure,” Cheatham said. “We’re going to go into this one thinking we have a chance. But we’ll have to play mistake-free, that’s for sure.”

It figures to be a-rockin' Rebel Stadium, which could be both good and bad for both teams. The Panthers have won the last two meetings in Blue Ridge but are just 2-4 at Rebel Stadium since 2006.

“Our community is very excited about this game and we’re expecting a big crowd that is going to be loud,” Cheatham said. “It’s going to be an electric atmosphere I think. We’re still trying to grow our program and having a game like this at this point in the season will be great for our kids to experience. Hopefully, we can give them a show.”

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Rebel Stadium, Blue Ridge
-- UNION COUNTY (2-0, 0-0 Region 8-2A): Defeated Towns County 60-7 last week
-- FANNIN COUNTY (2-0, 0-0 Region 7-3A): Off last week; defeated Lafayette 42-14 two weeks ago
-- NOTABLE: Union County leads series 14-13. The Panthers won 49-7 in 2018 in Blairsville. Union has won five straight and 7 of the last 8 in the series. ... The Panthers have won the last two meetings in Blue Ridge but are just 2-4 at Rebel Stadium since 2006. ... The Rebels are 2-0 for the first time since 2008. They are looking for their first 3-0 start since the 2005 campaign. ... However, the Rebels have faced stiffer competition. Their first two opponents are 4-2 overall compared to just 1-5 for Union’s first two opponents.

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