By CHARLIE CHITWOOD
It’s been so long since the term “Atlanta Week” has been used around here that it’s almost sneaked up on us. It’s only the best matchup that District 7-3A has to offer this year – two teams that in the pre-season rankings were already poised for a collision.
Back in the 1990’s, a clash between the two was one not to be missed. Ben Scharnberg’s Rabbits always had speed – Atlanta’s track team had the state titles and championship medals to prove it – and Jerry Bennett’s Bulldogs were built to match. While it’s not considered polite in Marion County to bring up the quarterfinal game in the 1994 playoffs, it wouldn’t be the last dustup at crunch time.
Greg Brown’s 2003 Bulldogs were a scrappy bunch of over-achievers that made JoJo Rawls even more dangerous with the football. The Dawgs thrilling playoff run that year was cut short three rounds deep – of course, by Atlanta. The Rabbits were just able to pull off a one-touchdown win over those Dawgs. It was Atlanta’s narrowest margin of victory on the path to their first-ever state title.
The ups-and-downs of enrollment figures separated the two districts from regular competition pretty much since then until now, and long-time Jefferson fans relish the return of the rivalry. This one ought to live up to the hype as well.
Doug Thompson sat through three quarters of precipitation misery at the Atlanta-Mt. Vernon game last week (won by Atlanta) and the eyes-on confirm we may have an old-fashioned shootout on our hands. The Rabbits’ talented squad returns plenty from last year’s 4A squad, but graduation delivered a gut-punch to this season’s defensive unit by taking away a big, fast linebacking corps.
When either team has the ball, there’s a bevy of lightning-fast backs and receivers that will make for some very interesting play on the ground and through the air. Jefferson has the deep-ball edge with a T.Q. Jackson-led receiving corps, but the Dawgs have become as dangerous as anyone around in the kick-return game, another key to Friday’s game.
On the ground, offensive coordinator Josh Keith has all kinds of high cards hidden up his sleeve. Dee Black. Kylan Thomas. Malik Cannon. Tybo Williams. Even Trey Hodge. Black has put up the numbers this year as one of the most successful runners in all of East Texas. While clearing the 1,000-yard mark in the season’s seventh game is modest by high-grade standards, he’s done it while being handed the ball just over half the number of times as other running backs atop the leader board. It’s fun to watch these guys go.
If maroon’s your favorite color, W.F. Lockett-Bulldog Stadium is the place to be tomorrow night. Get ready for a dandy.
► Watch Charlie interview Carlos Smith, Jr., Gavin Holliday, Cullen Mosley and Defensive Coordinator Stephen Young about tonight’s game with Atlanta:
Mark Allen’s Lady Bulldog basketball team is already on the court in preparation for next week’s start to competition. It’s a heady time of year if you’re a high school sports fan – playoff football and early-season hoops tourneys. The Junior High girls open their season Nov. 5 at Waskom while the JV and varsity squads make their debut Nov. 6 at home against Queen City.
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