Every Thursday, Class AA blogger Adam Krohn will preview a game of the week (GOTW).
When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Frank Snyder Stadium, Tiger
Records, rankings: Elbert County is 6-1 overall, 3-0 in Region 8-AA and unranked; Rabun County is 7-0, 3-0 and No. 4.
Last meeting: Rabun County won 42-10 in 2016.
Things to know: Elbert County and Rabun County are tied for first place in 8-AA, and the winner is likely to win the region championship. Rabun County is seeking its fourth consecutive region title. The Wildcats had won just one in 63 seasons before coach Lee Shaw's arrival in 2012. Elbert County's most recent of five total region titles came in 2013. Elbert County has outscored its opponents 171-15 in region play. The Blue Devils have a strong running game, with six players with at least 174 yards rushing. The leaders are sophomores D.J. Ardister (53 carries, 490 yards, six TDs) and Shun Allen (41-418-8). QB Kobe Goudelock is 45-of-64 passing for 716 yards and eight TDs. Junior DE Daniel Lavender has 36 tackles, 17 assists, four sacks, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. Rabun County averages 236.6 yards passing and 174.1 rushing. QB Bailey Fisher is 92-of-136 passing for 1,606 yards, has rushed for a team-leading 476 yards on 83 carries, and has had a hand in 32 touchdowns. The leading receivers are Cole Keener (26-551-8), Braxton Hicks (17-353-3) and Austin Jones (16-312-3). The Wildcats have outscored their seven opponents 355-75.
Maxwell's projection: Rabun County by 26
One might look at Maxwell's projection that calculates the Rabun County Wildcats to beat Elbert County by 26, or look at last year's matchup that the Wildcats won 42-10 and ask, "Why is this the game of the week?"
The answer is simple: the Blue Devils are playing at a high level despite losing 17 seniors from last season's 7-4 squad.
"We've really exceeded a lot of folks' expectations," said Blue Devils coach Sid Fritts, who took over the program in 2010. "We lost a large senior class but this team...has reinvented itself from an identity standpoint and we're playing about as well as we were in 2015, when we lost in the (Class AAA) quarterfinals to Calhoun in three overtimes."
The Blue Devils are off to a 6-1 start for the third year in a row with this season's only hiccup a 33-15 loss to Class A-public's Washington-Wilkes, which dropped them to 1-1. But they've reeled off five consecutive, double-digit wins since, including three over Region 8-AA opponents. They're coming off a 63-0 win over Oglethorpe County — their first shutout of the season.
Elbert County has always been primarily a run team based out of the spread formation, and that hasn't changed. But what has is an additional wrinkle in the passing game thanks to senior quarterback Kobe Goudelock, whom Fritts said has come into his own as a passer as the season's progressed, effectively spreading the ball to different playmakers including receivers Tay Huff and Metrius Fleming and running backs Jasquiz Rucker, D.J. Ardister and Shun Allen.
"He's played really well these past few weeks," Fritts said of Goudelock. "The ball went to Tae pretty much exclusively early on in the year. We weren't running the ball very well and then in Week 4 at Franklin County (a 52-28 win) and we started throwing the ball really well. Metrius showed up with some big plays, when earlier in the season we went to Tay pretty much exclusively. But that was the game we started really spreading the ball around and hitting some other folks."
Huff, whom Fritts considers the best overall athlete on the team, is second on the team in receptions, serves as the the return specialist and quarterback in wildcat formations, and also has five interceptions at cornerback.
"Our quarterback has been playing with a lot of confidence and we're really making plays for him," said Huff, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound senior.
Meanwhile in Tiger, the Wildcats continue to dominate as they have nearly all of coach Lee Shaw's tenure at Rabun County, which began in 2012. He's compiled a 52-14 in that span and the Wildcats are in the midst of a 26-game regular season win streak.
Senior quarterback Bailey Fisher (6-feet, 180 pounds) has been nothing short of outstanding for the Wildcats as a dual-threat whose play has him on the AJC's Player of the Year watch list.
"Bailey's been on point," Shaw said. "We wondered if he could possibly improve from last year (Fisher was selected to the 2016 AJC Class AA All-State team), and he's really a complete quarterback now. He's the real deal."
While the Wildcats' spread shotgun offense is averaging 50.7 points a game, the first-unit defense hasn't allowed a point in four of the team's seven games. Overall, the defense — led by senior free safety Austin Jones — is allowing an average of just 10.7 points and, like Elbert County, have a shutout on their record with a 59-0 win over Putnam County.
While this game is widely viewed as the 8-AA championship, Fritts is taking a more guarded approach to the Blue Devils' toughest opponent to date.
"We thought that last year and then Banks County beat us in (the regular season finale to take second place and knock Elbert County to third)," Fritts said. "So we're focused on this game for sure, but I also want to make sure we understand there's still football to be played after this game."
Fisher said the Wildcats will be ready for the Blue Devils.
"I'm expecting it to be a tough region battle with a region championship-type atmosphere," Fisher said. "They're athletic across the board and it will be a challenge but if we execute, we should be alright."
Huff also thinks it will be a battle unlike last season's lopsided Rabun County win.
"We're going to have to play all four quarters and give it all we got," Huff said. "I feel like this is the region championship and Rabun County is No. 4 in the state so if we can win, we can make some noise about who we really are."
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