NORTH AUGUSTA (3-2) AT GROVETOWN (0-2)
Last time they playedThis is the first meeting between the programs.
Players to watchNorth Augusta
• Trib Reece, QB. The sophomore who has seen limited action this season will become the full-time starter with Cody Turner sidelined with an injury. Reece has been effective working every third series for the Yellow Jackets, completing 17 of 38 passes for 325 yards and five touchdowns and two interceptions.
• DeVonte Pressley, RB. Pressley has battled nagging injuries the past two games but is good to go according to North Augusta head coach Dan Pippin and will look to improve his impressive totals of 581 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
• Kris Howard, LB. The junior linebacker leads the area in tackles with 72, nearly twice as many as his closest competitor.
Grovetown• Jamal Cummings, RB. Over the past two seasons, Cummings has rushed for more than 1,900 yards and 24 touchdowns and is the Warriors main weapon on offense again this season, scoring twice on plays that covered more than 80 yards.
• Hunter Peace, QB. Peace is a returning starter at quarterback and has experience guiding the Warriors’ Wing-T offense, as a facilitator as well as a ball carrier.
• Terrell Hughes, RB. Hughes offers a capable counter punch running the ball to keep opposing defenses from overloading to stop Cummings.
What this meansThis is North Augusta’s last non-region game of the season and its final game before its bye week. The Yellow Jackets are looking to go into the off week on a positive note, especially after last week’s surprising overtime loss to Sumter.
“Our focus is not to underestimate anybody,” Pippin said, hinting that might have been a factor last week. “Sometimes a loss, I don’t want to say it’s good, but with an inexperienced group, it helps us down the road. Everybody’s got to be ready to play.”
While North Augusta’s looking to bounce back and head into the bye with four wins, Grovetown is simply looking for a win, having lost its first two contests this season. While there were some thoughts that Sumter was over enthusiastic celebrating its upset of North Augusta last week, the Yellow Jackets have to be prepared for a similar reaction from the Warriors and their fans should they find consistent success. This is a big game for Grovetown, and one it specifically requested to play on Thursday on television.
“They think it’s a big game,” Pippin said, adding it’s a big deal for his team because four points for the playoff standings are at stake.
Keys to the gameNorth Augusta must be sound and disciplined on defense as it takes on Grovetown’s unique version of the Wing-T. It’s not the same as what Silver Bluff and Aiken will do, but the Warriors will try to run counter and option plays behind what Pippin described as big offensive line. Pippin acknowledged that Grovetown will try to dominate the time of possession with long drives, but is wary of its ability to strike for a long run.
The Warriors work out of the 4-3 formation on defense, and Pippin said their philosophy is similar to his, to have players flying to the ball and try to make big plays. Although Turner won’t be available, the Yellow Jackets aren’t planning to alter their approach on offense. They’ll still run the same read-option offense out of the spread and try to do it at as fast a pace as possible. They’ll run the ball a good deal, with Pressley and Willie McCloud being asked to carry the load, but Pippin is confident in Reece’s ability to lead North Augusta to points and a victory.
“Nothing has changed, but thank goodness we’ve been playing him every third series,” Pippin said. “He’ll be fine, I just want him to manage the game. I think he’ll be a special kid as he gets older and that’s why we were playing him now. I don’t want to put any extra pressure on him, but it’s a great opportunity for him to step up.”
The best thing to help Reece would be a strong game from his offensive line. North Augusta’s front five are big and athletic and when they’re on top of their game, the Yellow Jackets are fun to watch. They’ll need to open holes but also be aware of a Grovetown defense that’s likely to do a lot of stunting with the goal of creating confusion and pressure.
What they’re saying“Hopefully (the loss to Sumter) is a good learning experience. If not, we’ll be 3-3. But I’ve got a good group of kids and they work hard.” — Dan Pippin, North Augusta head coach
PredictionsNoah: The Yellow Jackets haven’t lost consecutive games since 2008, Dan Pippins second year as head coach. That streak won’t be snapped tonight. North Augusta 31, Grovetown 14
Jeremy: It’s been a few years since Dan Pippin’s squad lost a game it was expected to win. It won’t happen two weeks in a row. North Augusta 35, Grovetown 13
Scott: North Augusta will come roaring out of the gates and try to put this one to bed early. It won’t allow Grovetown to linger like it did to Sumter. North Augusta 42, Grovetown 14
Noah Feit is the Sports Editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.