One test passed, another awaits.
No one has to tell Jefferson coach Bill Navas about it; his Dragons are learning quickly what it takes to make it in Region 8-AA.
They’ve already toppled the defending region champion (Fannin County), and last week they routed previously unbeaten Union County.
In the process, Jefferson, which moved up from Class A this season, has staked its claim at the top of the region. But Navas said the Dragons (5-0, 4-0) will play their toughest opponent yet when they play host to Riverside Military Academy tonight.
“Their kids are very disciplined, very smart football players,” Navas said of the Eagles (4-1, 3-1). “And they’ve got one kid, (Julian) Suber, that’s just a fantastic football player.”
The Eagles (4-1, 3-1), another 8-AA newcomer, are currently knotted in a four-way tie for second place with Fannin County, Union County and North Oconee. They’ve made a smooth transition from Georgia Independent Schools Association to Georgia High School Association football on the strength of an explosive offense, led by Suber, the Eagles’ quarterback-turned running back.
A former back-up running back at Brookwood, Suber opened the season as Riverside’s starting quarterback, sharing some of the signal-calling duties with fellow junior Lucas Bersin.
That formula worked fine. The Eagles were putting up points in bunches on their way to a 3-1 start.
But last week Riverside coach Chris Lancaster moved Suber to running back and Bersin to full-time quarterback.
Can’t argue with those results, either.
Suber rushed for 226 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries in a 44-6 win over East Jackson last Friday. Bersin chipped in, completing 10 of his 16 pass attempts for 96 yards and two scores, and Logan Clemens, who shifted from running back to receiver, caught a pair of touchdowns and ran for another.
Lancaster said this week he expects to stick with that alignment, which probably won’t come as a surprise to Navas.
“(Bersin) is probably the better passer, but it doesn’t matter where they line up Suber,” Navas said. “Whether he’s at quarterback or running back, he’s likely to get the ball.
“We’ve been telling our kids all week, if you try to break down on him, he’ll make you miss. He’ll make one cut and run vertically very quick, so we’ve got to run through the ball.”
In preparation for the speed they’ll see, Navas said he’s called on Jesse Damons, “one of our fastest kids” to play the role of Suber in practice.
Lancaster has taken a similar approach to get his team ready for Jefferson’s potent spread offense. Actually, the Eagles began their new method last week, after falling 23-21 to North Oconee.
“We took a chance and went good-on-good,” Lancaster said, explaining his decision to practice his first-team offense head-to-head against his first-team defense. “We knew we were taking a chance, but if somebody got hurt, we’d just have to live with it. We wanted to put our best our there against each other so we could see the speed of the game in the middle of the week.”
The Eagles have done the same this week.
“We’re trying to portray Jefferson as best we can,” Lancaster said.
Easier said than done, though.
Riverside has faced explosive athletes: Elbert County’s Broderick Alexander, Banks County’s Justin Beasley.
The difference this week is “those were wing-T teams,” Lancaster said.
“They get their yards by packing you in and pounding the ball up in there. Jefferson’s gonna spread you out and get their athletes out in space, and that’s tough to defend.”
Junior quarterback Darius Minor spearheads the Dragons’ attack. Whether reading the zone option in the running game, or picking apart defenses in the passing game, the decisions are Minor’s to make. He leads the team with 488 rushing yards (12.5 per carry) and 652 passing yards.
“He’s a smart kid,” Navas said. “He’s the kind of kid, when he makes mistakes — and he has made mistakes — but he always learns from it and doesn’t repeat them.”
Balancing the Dragons offense are running back Virgil Appleby (405 rushing yards), Tab Martin (19 receptions, 299 yards) and Zac Crosby (six total touchdowns).
“They’ve got good athletes all over the field,” Lancaster said of the Dragons. “You can praise the quarterback, but he’s surrounded by athletes, too. They’ve got athletes that when they get the ball, they’re trying to make big things happen, and they’ve got the ability to do it.
“In a lot of ways, I think we’re a spittin’ image of each other”