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Screven County out for revenge at Erk Russell Classic

    “Football is a game of inches” is a popular cliche used by coaches and fans alike, but in some cases is can be a game of seconds as well.
    Seconds as in ticks on a clock to clarify. Afterall football is a timed game and clock management can be the deciding factor in some game results. But sometimes clock management isn’t enough, at times offenses can just keep swinging haymakers until one side has the ball last.
    Of any team in the coastal plains last season, Screven County knows painfully so how seconds can decide a game.
    37 seconds cost Screven two games last season by a combined eight points. Sandwiched in between those games were 11 decisive wins by a 248 points margin, but the focus of this offseason for the Gamecocks were those 37 seconds. Screven County head coach Ron Duncan said the goal of this season is to finish and avoid those late losses again in what is shaping up to be a special year in Sylvania.
    “The focus of all of our drills this offseason has been finishing strong at the end,” Duncan said. “But we don’t look at those losses as negatives, we try to make those positives and learn from them.”
    Those two losses came to Callaway 35-34 in the 2A quarterfinals and 32-25 to Bluffton (SC) in the Erk Russell Classic to open 2016. And while it’s unknown as to whether or not Screven County will see Callaway again in the playoffs, they will get another crack at Bluffton in this year’s rendition of the Erk Russell Classic.
    At 8 p.m. the two sides will meet again after Bluffton stunned the Gamecocks last season after scoring 22 unanswered points in the span of 25 minutes -- the final touchdown coming after a strip sack of Armani Bunbury set up Bluffton inside the Gamecock 15 with less than a minute left. As it pertains to any aspect of a revenge game, Duncan downplayed the notion and said tonight’s season opener will be business as usual.
    “I think we’re all excited because you get to play in a big game environment against a good team,” Duncan said. “But outside of that this week has been business as usual for us. We’re preparing for this game just like we would any other.”
    Bluffton, hailing from Region 8-3A in South Carolina, is very similar to Screven County in that the Bobcats bring back a wealth of experience and expectations from a 2016 team which won 12 games and made it all the way to the SCHSL Elite Eight. Playmakers WR I’kiem Jefferson, WR Owen Latchford and OLB Richard Jenkins all return from last season’s team.
    Those three in particular are important because they were the key pieces in bringing down Screven last season. Jenkins was the one who strip sacked Bunbury at the end of last season’s game, while Jefferson scored two of the three unanswered touchdowns down the stretch of the game. Duncan is well aware these pieces are back and looks forward to the challenge of trying to put a cap on them again this season.
    “They bring back nearly everybody from that team last season,” Duncan said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
    But Screven County will have the star power to match whatever Bluffton can throw at them. Of all the teams around the Bulloch area and surrounding counties, there’s a strong argument to be made that Screven has top-to-bottom the best roster and it may not even be that close.
    First and foremost DT/FB combo CJ Wright comes back as one of the most unique weapons in all of the GHSA. The six-foot, 285 pound wonder scored 21 touchdowns while registering 10.5 TFL a year ago and will be primed for another big year in 2017. Wright committed to Georgia Southern over the summer and he’s not the only D-1 talent on the Gamecocks roster.
    WR Tyquan Johnson was as explosive a player as you’ll find in the state last season. 13 of his 32 catches were touchdowns while averaging 25.2 yards a reception, making him the ideal cap-popper for an offense which loves to run the ball. Johnson’s talents got him an offer from the University of South Carolina, where he committed this summer as well.
    Bunbury isn’t a bad talent himself. He threw 20 TDs to just five interceptions at 9.6 yards per pass in 2016 while averaging 6.1 yards per rush and scoring another 10 times on the ground. Kim Hunter, the third head on the monster in Screven’s backfield, averaged 8.2 yards a carry with five touchdowns last season.
    On defense along the defensive line is Kendrick Cox, who returns 11 sacks and another 15 TFL. Damien Perry, who pairs with Wright in the middle of the line, had 7.5 TFL and 52 tackles a year ago. Dublin transfer EJ Roberson should bolster the secondary alongside returners Nick Clifton and Jonathan Roberts, while Kashawn Robinson shores up the linebacking score.
    Safe to say Screven has the talent to go a long way this year and Duncan has seen them work at the level which matches their talent.
    “These seniors have been an especially tight group, even if they’re quiet for the most part,” Duncan said. “They come in, do their work and do it right. That’s all we can ask for as a coaching staff.”
    With this much talent, it’s been hard to temper down the expectations for Screven County this season. The Gamecocks are the No. 5 ranked team by Friday Night Football publications and No. 9 by the AJC Maxwell ratings in class 2A. But Duncan has made it a point to try and shut off the peripheral noise surrounding his program and according to him the players have responded well.
    “We are a little isolated so that makes it slightly easier,” Duncan said. “We’ve learned how to handle these expectations because we hold ourselves to a high standard in this building.”
    As much as Duncan likes to downplay expectations, it’s going to be hard to keep hopes down if Screven beats Bluffton. Because if they do, there’s no one left on their schedule who would be favored to beat them heading into the 2A playoffs.