JEFFERSON — Sometimes the score of a game isn’t indicative of how close both teams actually were.
That was the case Friday night for Jackson County (2-1, 0-0) in its 21-0 loss to Rabun County (3-1, 0-0).
“Our kids fought hard, played hard, they kept fighting until the last minute,” Jackson County head coach Brandon Worley said. “Offensively we need to go look at the film and find things we need to fix but defensively I thought we played great.
“We had a couple slip-ups there late that made it look worse than what it really was.”
Despite the 21-point margin, the Panthers defense managed to shut down the Wildcats offense. It allowed only 115 rushing yards on 36 carries and besides a 47-yard pass to end the game, Rabun’s Bailey Fisher only passed the ball for 131 on 12 catches.
Penalties is where the Panthers’ defense looked best though; eight of Rabun County’s penalties came on offense and were mostly caused directly by Panther defenders getting in the backfield. A clipping penalty negated an 80-yard touchdown pass with just seconds to go in the first half. Those penalties accounted for 85 yards against the Wildcats.
However, the Jackson offense struggled just as much. Malik Tuck was held to just 47 yards on 19 carries and Caleb Matthews completed just seven of his 21 pass attempts for 111 yards on two interceptions. One of those interceptions was thrown in the end zone late in the second quarter.
Most of Rabun’s yards came on just two possessions. Their first drive to start the game went 52 yards but ended on a missed field goal. Their other long drive lasted 80 yards, Fisher scored that touchdown from 11 yards out.
The Wildcats’ second touchdown was a 9-yard run by Eli Gipson three minutes into the fourth quarter after Rabun blocked a punt. Fisher connected Jack Johnson on a 47-yard pass with 57 seconds remaining.
At times, the Panthers’ offense looked good. Before throwing the interception in the end zone, Matthews completed three passes for three straight third down conversions to move the ball from his own 20 to the Wildcat 35-yard line.
Their second drive of the third quarter featured another clutch third down pass, but a pair of incompletions on third and fourth downs with 3 yards to go ended the drive at the Wildcat 27-yard line.
Jackson County’s next possession went the same way except it ended in a stopped run on fourth-and-1 at midfield. After that the Panthers couldn’t avoid going three-and-out on their final three possessions.
“We had a couple mistakes through the air. We just need to fine-tune some things, we definitely need to get better on first down,” Worley said. “That’s the most important down, and when you get yards there, the chances of getting more first downs are pretty good.”
Jackson County will have a chance to bounce back next week when it plays host to East Hall before beginning Region 8-AAA play at the following week at Jefferson.