By James Butler
RIVERDALE Ga. – The two Clayton County football teams remaining in the GHSA Playoffs have gotten to the third round in a drastically different fashion.
The 9-3 Drew Titans have gone on a run in Class AAAAA thanks to an offense that is averaging just a little under 45 points per game this year. That number has risen to 62 points per game in the playoffs. Meanwhile Jonesboro has used its defense to sustain itself as one of Class AAAA’s top teams all year long.
Sitting at 11-1, the Cardinals are allowing just 10.6 points per game and have held five opponents to single digits. Both units will face perhaps their toughest task of the season tonight as Drew’s offense goes up against a stingy Ware County defense and Jonesboro’s defense will try to hold down a high-flying Cartersville offense.
Drew will make the long trek to South Georgia to face Ware County. The Gators are coached by the defensive-minded Franklin Stephens who used defense to lead Tucker High School to Class AAAA championships in 2008 and 2011.
His Gators are allowing just 12 points per game this year and it will be the job of Stephens and his staff to devise a way to contain a ridiculously fast-paced and diverse Drew offense.
The Titans have been a threat in the air and on the ground this season as quarterback Joseph Newman has accounted for over 1600 yards and 22 touchdowns passing and over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing. His top targets in the passing game range from the 6-foot-5, 210-pound wide receiver Bryson Duckworth to the 5-10, 170 pound running back Cedric Davenport.
Those threats alone will keep most teams up at night, but perhaps the biggest part of Drew’s offensive onslaught has been the insane production of running back Quarderman Sloan.
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound scat back has 2,102 yards and 26 touchdowns this year on just 185 carries — that is an eye-popping average of 11.4 yards per carry.
Sloan has been a true workhorse over the Titans last three games — each of them must wins — as he has averaged 26 carries and 215 yards while amassing nine total touchdowns. It’s obvious the talent the Drew offense contains, but the fact that Newman, Duckworth, and Sloan (despite the fact that this is his first year as the starting running back) are experienced seniors may be the biggest factor in the Titans being able to go on the road and knocking off Ware County.
While Jonesboro has a big-time quarterback in Clemson commit Zerrick Cooper orchestrating its offense, the Cardinals would not be where they are today without their defense.
No offense to Class AAAAA No. 1 Stockbridge and the ultra stingy units coach Kevin Whitley usually puts out over there, but Jonesboro’s D has been arguably the best in the Southern Crescent this year. The hallmarks of any defense are fundamentals, discipline and preparation, with modern-day units adding the element of exceptional speed.
The Jonesboro stop unit has all of those attributes going for it. Joshua James, Kali James, and Sarry Pierre are among the Cardinals that have used technique and athleticism to control the line scrimmage, while Dezmond Harris, Kendall Hillman, and Jason Sears have cleaned up any and everyone making it past the line.
Add cornerbacks that have been tough to throw against and defense gives Jonesboro the confidence that it can play on the same field as any team in Class AAAA.
That is particularly good news for the Cardinals because the Cartersville team they host is ranked third in the classification. Cartersville’s offense also boasts a player some consider to be the best sophomore in America in quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
The 6-foot-5, 200-pounder has thrown for 35 touchdowns and just four interceptions in 2015. By practicing against a major college quarterback like Cooper every day, one should not expect Jonesboro to be awed or overwhelmed by Lawrence. Still, much like Drew’s offense, Jonesboro’s defense might have to play its best game of the season to outperform its opponent tonight.