Screven shocked the state of Georgia last week, leaving them a tough act to follow in this year’s playoffs.
Rated a 21-point underdog by the AJC last week to rival Jefferson County, Screven rolled up the Warriors 49-34 for the region 2-2A championship. Screven held a vaunted Jefferson rushing attack to 1.1 yards a carry and forced the Warriors to the air where they’d intercept two passes — including one for a touchdown.
Despite not completing a single pass on the night, Screven would rush for 304 carries at 6.1 yards a carry and six touchdowns. It was a statement game and possibly the biggest on Ron Duncan’s tenure at Screven County.
“With it being the last game of the year and both teams being highly ranked, from the outside looking in it was a big game,” Duncan said. “But we truly try to treat every game the same here.”
But it’s not from one obstacle to the next, as Screven will try to break a streak that’s haunted them since 2002. The Gamecocks haven’t been out of the second round of the playoffs since they won the state championship back in 2002, and it’s a big focus of the team and coaching staff to get over the hump.
“Making a deep playoff run is important,” Duncan said. “But we’re not looking ahead this week. We need to take care of business in the first round.”
Screven County has been one of the best 2A teams in the state of Georgia this year. They’re ranked in the top 10 of numerous Georgia prep polls, and as high as five in the ScoreATL.com poll. Zoomed in, Screven certainly has the resume of a top 10 team.
In light of the fact their region isn’t very strong outside Jefferson County, Screven scheduled well outside the region and performed well. While Statesboro’s 2016 wasn’t very good, they're still a 5A team compared to Screven at 2A and the Gamecocks won 35-21.
Then the Gamecocks took two of South Carolina’s better teams to task at the beginning of the year: beating Wade Hampton 32-17 and falling on a last second touchdown to Bluffton 32-25 at the Erk Russell Classic. But the Jefferson game is what will stand out to Georgia opponents the most.
“We try not to worry about the peripheral around us,” Duncan said. “But there’s no doubt we had that game under control the entire time.”
Screven locked up a one seed in the playoffs with the win, giving them a home field advantage going into the quarterfinals. But their opponent is no pushover, as Toombs County has seen a resurgence in their program in head coach Richie Marsh’s first year.
Toombs has been playoff dormant since 2008, and recent history shows they can play well with Screven. The two teams met four times from 2004 to 2009 with each side winning twice — Toombs most recently 19-8 in 2009.
But those were different Screven teams, none as good as the one in 2016. And first round playoff games have gone well for Screven under Duncan’s leadership.
Screven’s three first round playoff games under Duncan have gone in their favor by a +75 point margin. Then again, the argument can be made this Toombs team may be the best one Screven’s faced in the first round since 2012.
Comparing Toombs to the 2012 Bacon County team Screven played, both were 6-4 in the regular season. While Bacon played the tougher schedule that year (.528 to Toombs’ .463), Toombs has the better point differential of the two (+124 to Bacon’s +75).
Either way you slice it, Screven did beat Bacon County 41-7 that year. But it doesn’t mean tonight’s game is tacit by any means.
“Toombs by far is the best four seed we’ve seen,” Duncan said. “If they’re in another region they play at home as a two seed.”
Style-wise, these two teams are eerily similar. While Screven appears to have the quarterback advantage with Armani Bunbury over Toombs' Dalton McBride (McBride’s QB rating is 77.4, Bunbury’s is 99.1) both of these squads lay their foundation on the ground.
Both of these teams will run the ball on over 76 percent of their total plays, Toombs even more so at 87.4 percent. The brunt of those carries will be given to Keshawn Morgan, who’s averaged 8.8 yards a carry this season on 137 carries. His backfield partner Jeidon Sistrunk will add depth, while McBride as the ability to run as well.
But McBride’s inability to throw the ball on a consistent basis may be the key to shutting things down. Much like Screven did to Jefferson last week, if the Gamecocks can force the throw on long down-and-distances, Toombs’ offense could be in trouble.
“They have an offensive line as good as we’ve seen,” Duncan said. “The run is going to be our first concern.”
Screvens' backfield trio will continue to be as hard to deal with as ever, mixing in Bunbury, CJ Wright and Kim Hunter in the I-option attack. The three have combined for 1803 yards at 7.3 yards a rush and 30 touchdowns.
And Screven’s not an easy team to run on, allowing only 3.1 yards per carry on 973 rushes against them in 2016.
Tonights game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. in Sylvania.