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East Hall, Jackson County vie for momentum ahead of region play
Senior running back Juwon Merritt runs for a gain last season against Johnson. East Hall (1-1) takes on Jackson County at home on Friday. The Vikings last played Jackson County in 1997. - photo by Nat Gurley | Times file photo

East Hall vs. Jackson County

When: 7:30 Friday night

Where: East Hall Stadium, Gainesville

Coaches: Jackson County, Benji Harrison; East Hall, Bryan Gray

Records: Jackson County (0-3), East Hall (1-1)

Key players: Jackson County, QB Jacob Lewis (6-1, 180 Sr.), WR/FS Antonio Strickland (6-1, 180 Jr.), LB Griffin Mcelvery (5-10, 185 Jr.). East Hall, QB/DB Devin Watson (5-11, 185 Sr.), LB Ronnie Peebles (5-11, 210 Sr.), WR/LB Rex Purgason (Jr.)

Momentum is a precious commodity in high school football.

A pair of teams searching for it ahead of region play will collide Friday night at East Hall Stadium.

East Hall (1-1) hosts Jackson County (0-3), as the Vikings aim to bounce back from a 38-10 loss to Pickens and the Panthers seek their first victory of the season.

East Hall had a bye last week while Jackson County fell 34-21 to Rabun County. Vikings coach Bryan Gray said his team had plenty to work on during its past two weeks of practice.

“Our big focus was to get better. We had to really shore up some fundamental things on both sides of the line and build some depth with some younger kids, get some kids healthy,” Gray said. “We had to really work on being cohesive on offense. We were very kind of hit and miss, and we just didn’t really have a good flow either (of the) two games.”

Jackson County lost 27-21 to Madison County and 34-26 to White County in its first two weeks of the season. Panthers coach Benji Harrison said he’s confident in his team’s ability to break through.

“We’ve had opportunities in every game,” Harrison said. “We need to overcome the big mistake.”

East Hall defeated Wesleyan 20-13 in Week 1 before the loss to Pickens, with both games coming on the road. Vikings senior linebacker Ronnie Peebles, who has a team-high 22 tackles and 14 solo stops, said East Hall came out overconfident against Pickens. He expects more focus this Friday.

“We’re going to go in with the mindset of getting the job done and getting the win,” Peebles said.

Jackson County is one of the few teams East Hall will face that passes the ball with similar frequency. Jacob Lewis, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound senior Panthers quarterback, has completed 62.2 percent of his passes for 590 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Vikings senior signal-caller Devin Watson has thrown for 426 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in two games.

Harrison said his team has seen success passing, but he said his attack isn’t so much focused on balance.

“We’re a spread team, but we do like to run the football,” Harrison said. “We want to take what they give us.”

Gray said that after facing an I-formation power team and a pure power team in the first two weeks this will be a different challenge for his defensive unit.

“They’re a real darn good team, made the playoffs the last two years and probably will again this year,” Gray said.

That two-year streak of playoff appearances came after a drought of almost 20 years for Jackson County. Harrison said East Hall nose tackle Hosea Jackson presents a major challenge for his offense and that playing physical will be important.

Harrison said the Vikings’ size and athleticism makes their offense tough to defend.

“We’ve got to make sure we know our assignment,” Harrison said. “We’ve got to keep everything in front of us.”

Following this week’s matchup, East Hall opens Region 7-AAA play at home against Lumpkin County and Jackson County welcomes county rival Jefferson to begin its 8-AAA slate on Sept. 26.

Gray said turnovers and mistakes cost his team against Pickens. He’s counting on this tough early slate to show his team its areas needing improvement.

“We knew we needed to get tuned up before we hit region,” Gray said. “That’s the best way to do it is to play some teams that are traditionally very strong.”


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