CHATSWORTH, Ga. — One of the teams playing in the GHSA Class AAA quarterfinal football game tonight at Savannah's Memorial Stadium will make history.
Neither North Murray nor host Jenkins has ever appeared in a semifinal game — the visiting Mountaineers, in fact, are making their quarterfinal-round debut. The similarities, despite the more than 300 miles that separate the schools, don't end there.
While each 11-1 team has an offense that is both balanced and potentially explosive, ultimately the defensive end is where both have stood out, and it's likely on that end where this game will be decided.
"They don't give up points," North Murray coach Preston Poag said of the Warriors, who lead all Class AAA teams with just 85 points allowed this season. "They are senior-heavy on defense, and they get to the ball in a hurry."
Jenkins is led by a pair of FBS Power Five conference recruits in defensive linemen Akelo Stone (Georgia Tech) and Taurus Simmons (West Virginia). The Jenkins defensive front, which also includes Joah Cash and Clarence Betterson, has 77 tackles for loss. As a team, the Warriors have 148 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
"On offense we just have to play our game," Poag said. "There are things we can take advantage of, but we have to execute. Defensively, we're pretty good, too."
The strength of the North Murray defense, which has allowed only 117 points after giving up 38 in a season-opening loss to Rabun County, is in the linebacking corps. Naval Academy commitment Chaisen Buckner, a former defensive end, brings length and power to the group, while leading tackler Dylan Flood is a sideline-to-sideline defender who rarely misses a tackle.
"I wouldn't trade those two linebackers for anyone," Poag said. "Buckner can run and is physical. Flood is our leading tackler and is all over the field. We go kind of how he goes. Those guys make a bunch of tackles, but a lot of credit goes to the line because they keep people off our linebackers."
The defensive focus for the Mountaineers will be Jenkins running back Demozzio Harris, who has right at 1,500 yards and 25 touchdowns and is coming off a 167-yard, two-touchdown game in a second-round win over Dawson County.
The winner will travel to face the winner of the Jefferson/Crisp County game in next week's semifinal round.
All-star games set
A new all-star football game has been set for the Chattanooga area. In memory of the late Stump Martin, the Scenic City All-Star Game, sponsored by Tasty Donut, is scheduled for Dec. 14 at Boyd Buchanan. The TSSAA-sanctioned event will kick off at 3 p.m.
The teams will consist of players from 38 Chattanooga-area Tennessee schools, divided into East and West squads. Full rosters will be completed soon. East Hamilton's Grant Reynolds will coach the East team, and East Ridge's Tim James will head up the West team.
"The mission of the game is to reward participants for their outstanding effort, commitment and dedication to high school football," said game director John Starr. "The game will allow the Chattanooga area's top talent to compete against other premier players."
Also, the annual Tennessee East-West All-Star Classic is set for Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville. Eighty-eight of the state's top senior players have been selected to participate.
Notre Dame's Charles Fant will serve as the East team's head coach, and he will be assisted by Walker Valley's Drew Akins.
Area players who are committed to participate include Red Bank quarterback Madox Wilkey, Notre Dame receiver Jeffrey Watkins, Walker Valley receiver Griffin Broome, East Hamilton receiver Cade Meeks, Cleveland receiver Robert Flowers, Notre Dame offensive lineman Jacob Brigman, Ooltewah offensive lineman Christian Benoit, Meigs County athlete Aaron Swafford, Ooltewah defensive back Chase Sanders, Notre Dame linebacker Dallas Brown and Baylor linebacker Noah Martin.