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Screven, Westside clash in big Region 3-AA matchup

Westside (5-2, 2-1) at
Screven Co. (5-1, 2-0)

7:30 p.m., 106.5 FM

    SYLVANIA — The Screven County Gamecocks hope to keep their surprising season heading in the right direction as they host Westside, Augusta tonight.
    The Gamecocks have struggled through the past few seasons, but a new coaching regime, a new offense, and plenty of veteran leadership has Screven sitting at 5-1 overall and 2-0 in Region 3-AA play. Screven is one of just two teams still unbeaten in region play and is gunning for its first region title since 2002 — a year in which the Gamecocks won a state title.
    “We’re definitely pleased with what we’ve been able to do so far,” said Screven coach Ron Duncan. “We’ve gotten of to a good start in region, but we aren’t looking past the next game. What happens down the road will happen. Right now, it’s all about Westside.”
    Heading into last week, the Patriots (5-2, 2-1) were tied atop the region standings with Screven County. But Westside was dispatched by Laney in a 32-3 thumping, leaving the Patriots battling to get back into the region race.
    Despite the large margin of defeat, Duncan is sure that Westside will be much more competitive tonight.
    “That score doesn’t tell the whole story,” said Duncan. “Westside drove inside Laney’s 20 yard line on its first four drives, but just couldn’t finish with points. We know that beating them won’t be easy.”
    The Patriots might be dealing with some offensive issues, but that is far from the case for Screven.
    The Gamecocks broke in their new option attack with a 48-0 win over Groves in the season opener and have only gotten better from there.
    Senior fullback Jeremy Johnson has been the key to the offense as no team has figured out how to slow him down. Johnson has already racked up an impressive 20 touchdowns and his 790 rushing yards leads all running backs in the area.
    Aikeem Mingle has also benefitted from the change in offense. Mingle was a good dual threat quarterback in each of his first three seasons, but the new scheme has accentuated his skills and made him even more dangerous. Mingle is second on the team in rushing with 258 yards and has also passed for 445 yards and three touchdowns so far.
    “As we’ve gotten better at running our base option, we’ve been able to expand things a little bit,” said Duncan. “We still depend on the option, but we also have the ability to throw it and to just run a straight power game.”
    Featuring 10 new starters, the Screven defense hasn’t been quite as impressive as its offensive counterpart, but is continuing to improve and has done enough to notch wins all season.
    The Gamecock defenders will have to prepare for a physical night as they try to stop the Patriots’ powerful running game. Westside sticks primarily to the ground game, but has also shown the ability to go deep in search of big plays.
    “We’re going to need a well-rounded effort on defense,” said Duncan. “(Westside) has guys who are dangerous at all of their skill positions. It’s going to take a very good effort to stop them.”
    With a win, the Gamecocks will guarantee themselves to retain at least a share of first place in Region 3-AA. East Laurens is also unbeaten, but faces a tough test at Laney tonight.
    If both teams win tonight, the stage will be set for a de facto region championship game between the two in Dublin next week.

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.