Screven Co. (8-0, 4-0) at Dublin (5-4, 3-2)
7:30 p.m., Friday
SYLVANIA — When Ron Duncan arrived at Screven County prior to the 2012 season, the Gamecocks were in a decade-long rut.
Screven County had dominated the first few years following the turn of the millennium — even winning a state championship in 2002 — but had managed just three winning seasons and a pair of first round playoff exits since 2004.
The turnaround was huge and it was immediate.
The Gamecocks won their region and got to the second round of state. The 2013 season saw a bit of a step back, but this year’s squad may be the best Screven has seen since the 2002 team as they remain unbeaten with two weeks left in the regular season.
“We weren’t sure exactly what the expectations should be this season,” Duncan said. “I thought we had some talent, but we’re also starting about four freshmen and asking a lot of young guys to do big things for us.”
The youth movement has mixed perfectly with the seniors who have had plenty of time in Duncan’s system.
Two weeks ago, the Gamecocks squared off against Swainsboro for control of Region 3-AA. Screven emerged with the win, locking up a state playoff slot, moving to 4-0 in region play and improving to a still-perfect 8-0 overall.
Injuries played a big part in last season’s lull, but while the trainer’s room has stayed active again this year, Screven continues to find contributors wherever it looks.
Donta Wilburn – a receiver in previous seasons – has become a dangerous dual-threat quarterback. When running back Tavarious Johnson was lost with a broken collarbone in September, Malik Prescott assumed the bulk of the carries and is up to 590 yards for the season.
Brandon Whatley has been a consistent receiving threat while fellow receiver Tyquan Johnson has emerged as a home run hitter that is liable to produce a big play whenever he touches the ball.
“I think we just have everyone on the same page,” Duncan said. “Everyone knows what we’re doing and how we’re trying to do it. Guys are playing more for the team than for themselves, and that is always a big factor.”
The resurgence of the Gamecocks over the last three years has also brought about an outpouring of support from the Sylvania community.
Kelly Memorial Stadium was given a facelift and additional seating four years ago, but has struggled to fit all of the Gamecock faithful at times.
“We absolutely appreciate the support,” Duncan said. “You try to live inside a bubble and just focus on the job we have to do, but I’m out in the community and so are our kids. We see hear the fans and we appreciate it.”
This week brings another big test as the Gamecocks take on Dublin (5-4, 3-2) in the Shamrock bowl. A win in either of its final two games will seal the region title and a top seed in the state playoffs, but the Gamecocks would love to wrap things up over a Fighting Irish team that contributed to many recent Screven teams that went without a postseason.
A region championship for Screven would bring with it a somewhat easier postseason path as the Gamecocks would get to play at least a pair of home games – so long as they win their opener – and would begin the playoffs against the fourth place school from Region 4-AA.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.