With both teams returning many of the same standouts from last year’s game, all indications are it could be another barn-burner when the No. 3 state-ranked Bears (2-0) and No. 9 state-ranked Cardinals (2-0) tee it up in 24 hours at Memorial Stadium.
Twelfth-year Griffin head coach Steve DeVoursney knows Friday’s home opener will be his team’s toughest test to date.
“There’s no question,” DeVoursney said.
Both teams come into the game undefeated — Jonesboro after scoring victories of 33-7 against rival Mt. Zion-Jonesboro in the season opener two weeks ago and 34-12 last week at Westover-Albany and Griffin after a 42-16 win at Dutchtown in the season opener two weeks ago and a 34-6 win last week at Northgate.
Led by the likes of BCS-caliber senior wideout Cameron Sutton and Vanderbilt-committed cornerback Taurean Ferguson, the Cardinals spread offense packs a lot of punch. The unit, aided by a pair of special teams touchdowns last week and a long interception return the week before that set up a 2-yard TD run, is averaging 26.5 ppg.
“They typically have gotten in the spread offense each week to start the game and then once they get to where they want to be they get the I-formation and pound you and run out the clock,” Bears defensive coordinator Rusty Easom said.
He said their offense, which has good skilled people throughout, is nearly a mirror image of the one Griffin faced in the playoffs last year.
“They have a different quarterback, but he’s just as good as last year’s quarterback (Cedric Nettles, who’s playing at the University of Chattanooga-Tennessee this year),” Easom said of junior Cardinals quarterback Mario Atkinson. “The biggest thing is his receivers do a good job of finding open grass once he starts scrambling.”
Easom said the Cardinals pass it about 60 percent of the time.
Through two games the Bears are allowing an average of 11 points a game, though two of the scores in the first game were set up by special teams miscues.
On the other side of the ball, Griffin’s spread attack is averaging 37.5 ppg this season. Leading the way are Parks, a junior and second-year starter at quarterback, in addition to sophomore All-American Quay Mangham at receiver and classmate Malik Miller at running back.
Miller has rushed for a team-high five touchdowns, while Mangham has eight receptions for 257 yards and a touchdown and Parks has tossed three touchdown passes and run for another.
This week Griffin’s offense will face a 4-4 man free Jonesboro defense yielding 9.5 ppg.
“They have four defensive backs that can lock down on you,” Bears offensive coordinator Justin Rogers said. “It’s the best secondary we’ve played by far. They will make it tough to throw the ball.”
DeVoursney said there are a few keys to Friday’s game: “Trying not to give up the big, explosive play — they have a bunch of players who can score on any play — and then just trying to drive and make them earn everything they get. It’ll come down to whoever has the fewest turnovers and gives up the fewest big plays.”
He doesn’t believe there is necessarily any more or any less pressure on Griffin because of last year’s win.
“I think it’s a plus any time you can beat somebody and have a bunch of returning starters it has got to be good,” he added.
Griffin, which leads the all-time series between the two schools 37-2, has won 19 in a row and 31 of the last 32 meetings.