If the game turns out to be anything like last year’s opening-round Class AAAA state playoff roller-coaster ride between the Bears and Cardinals, it’ll keep fans on the edge of their seats until the final buzzer.
Griffin erased a nine-point deficit on the strength of two touchdown passes from Jaquez Parks to Devontae Freeman in the final 2:21 for a 47-43 victory on a cold November night at Tara Stadium in Jonesboro.
“I still love to watch the film,” fourth-year Cardinals head coach Tim Floyd said Thursday afternoon. “It was a great high school game.”
What makes tonight’s game — the home opener for Griffin and the Region 4-AAAA Div. B opener for both teams — all the more special is both return the bulk of their players. It’s as close to a mirror image as you can get at the high school level, a classic chess-style match up.
And make no mistake, there’s a lot of mutual respect between the teams.
“Of course we remember last year,” said Floyd. “I think we learned a lot from that game, playing a team with that tradition and type of athlete… Hopefully, we can come out ahead this year.”
Compliments aside, you can bet both teams have solid game plans in place.
Central to that idea is what both spread offenses will likely try to do. While both have numerous downfield threats and quarterbacks who can put the ball on the money, expect both teams to try their hand at controlling the clock at some point — sooner than later, especially if they get an early lead.
“We really have to be able to run the ball and control the ball to keep their offense off the field,” Floyd said of a Griffin offense averaging an amazing 37.5 ppg.
Of course, led by first-year starter Mario Atkinson at quarterback and University of Tennessee-committed Cameron Sutton and Vanderbilt-committed Taurean Ferguson at receiver, the Cardinals, averaging 26.5 ppg on offense, can more than hold their own.
Jonesboro, which opened the season with a 33-7 win over rival Mount Zion-Jonesboro two weeks ago and rallied from a halftime deficit to win 34-12 last week at Westover-Albany, is also pretty good on defense where it is yielding a scant 9.5 ppg.
Parks, who is back as a second-year starter at quarterback for the Bears, concerns Floyd.
“I see a lot of size and speed,” Floyd said of Griffin’s highly-touted offense. “I see the quarterback’s play as the biggest factor. We have to contain him. His ability to create plays is a lot of concern for us. Mixed with his speed, it’s a challenge for us.”
Note here: Jonesboro’s defensive backs also start at receiver on offense. Fatigue could be a huge factor as the game wears on against a Griffin offense two deep at receiver.
Griffin, of course, is looking to add to the carnage in its rear-view mirror. The Bears rallied from a 16-7 halftime deficit to swat Dutchtown away 42-16 in the season opener two weeks ago before jumping out to a 22-0 lead against defending Region 3-AAAA champ Northgate last week and settling for a 35-6 victory.
“They do a great job of getting off the ball and making tackles,” Floyd noted of Griffin’s punishing defense which is allowing 11 ppg and has worked over ball carriers, quarterbacks and receivers alike the past two weeks.
John Sullivan is the sports editor at the Griffin Daily News.