LAKESIDE (GA.) at NORTH AUGUSTA

Last time they played:


North Augusta defeated Lakeside 38-22 when the teams played in 2011.


Players to watch:


Lakeside:


• Rashad Roundtree, DB. The reigning region Defensive Player of the Year has offers from just about every major college program across the country and can wreak havoc with opposing passing games.


• Nick Patterson and Zaccheus Banks, QBs. One of these signal callers will have the responsibility of taking over the role and have a good group of solid – if not superlative – receivers and running backs to get the ball to.


• Scout Sleigh, OL. The 6-foot-5, 285-pound addition to the Panthers' offensive line could make it hard for the Yellow Jackets to get pressure on whichever quarterback is calling the shots for Lakeside.


North Augusta:


• Trib Reece, QB. Reece was the Aiken area's top passer in every major category – by a wide margin – last season and will be called on to repeat his success while leading the way for a relatively inexperienced group of receivers and running backs.


• Rashad Byrd, LB. Byrd is highly-athletic player who's expected to cover one sideline to the other in first-year head coach Brian Thomas' 4-2-5 defense, leading the way as a linebacker charged with shutting down opponents' running and passing games.


• Chandler Harrison, WR. A new addition to the football team, Harrison's a star basketball player looking to make his mark on the gridiron. He should get the chance to show off his athleticism as a deep-ball threat and playmaker for the Yellow Jackets.


What this means:


This is the first game for both head coaches at these schools. Brian Thomas is making his debut with North Augusta after a stint with Northern Guilford (N.C.), while Steve Hibbitts takes over at Lakeside after a successful run at Westside. In fact, Thomas, Hibbitts – who was an assistant at North Augusta before going to Westside – and Yellow Jackets' defensive coordinator Derrick Quinn were the finalists for the North Augusta job, when Dan Pippin left for Greenwood after eight very successful seasons.


That makes this something of a statement game, beyond the normal importance attached to a season-opening game between two quality programs. Both coaches will try to get off to good starts with their new teams.


As the Yellow Jackets' head coach, Thomas has the responsibility of trying to fill Pippin's shoes – not an easy task considering they went 70-33 and had seven consecutive playoff appearances under Pippin. But Thomas said he's excited for the opportunity.


“Coach Pippin did a great job setting the foundation. I hope to carry it on and build on it,” said Thomas. “There's something special about North Augusta.”


Keys to the game:


The Yellow Jackets must be disciplined on defense. They can't look to overload to stop one or two Lakeside players, or even a single aspect of the Panthers' offense because it's a balanced unit that isn't overly reliant on a single player to do too much. By operating a zone-read strategy, the Panthers are capable of spreading the ball around – be it on the ground or in the air.


“We've got to be sound, fly to the football and be disciplined,” Thomas warned. “They've got athletes at the skill positions and are well coached.”


Thomas added he's looking for more of the improved on-ball pressure he saw from his squad in its winning performance over Silver Bluff in last week's Aiken County Jamboree. His defense reacted well and quickly got to the ball, stopping the Bulldogs from making any big plays with sound tackling – something that will be a premium this week and throughout the season.


Offensively, Thomas expects the Yellow Jackets' high-powered passing attack to continue to flourish. Reece picked apart Silver Bluff in the jamboree but will have his work cut out for him going against an elite defender like Roundtree.


“They've got several athletes, but you can see why he deserved four stars,” Thomas said of Roundtree's high rating in the recruiting process. “We've got to be smart and just take what they give us.”


To do that, North Augusta's offensive line must set the tone. There have been some growing pains in the preseason for the unit that features four new starters from a year ago – and all five lineman in new positions. But Thomas has seen improvement and will be looking for more positive steps from the unit he's counting on to open holes for Cam Matthews and the other North Augusta ball carriers while protecting Reece and allowing him the time to make good reads and passes.


While scoring is always the desired goal, Thomas pointed out that having good field position will be critical to the overall success. If they aren't scoring, the Yellow Jackets must move the ball and create long fields for the Panthers. Thomas said his special teams units will also be critical in helping to win the battle for field position.


What they're saying:


“I'm excited about getting going. After everything is done, it all boils down to basic football. We want to build confidence, and getting a win over a good Lakeside team would be big for building confidence,” — Brian Thomas, North Augusta head coach


ABBEVILLE at SILVER BLUFF

Last time they played:


Abbeville beat Silver Bluff 28-19 in 2003.


Players to watch:


Abbeville:


• Joseph Battle, QB. Battle is an athlete who can make big plays for the Panthers.


• Demarius Lee, OL/DL. Lee is one of the returning starters along the big, physical Abbeville offensive and defensive line.


• Ben Thomasson, C. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 300 pounds, Thomasson will be a part of the offensive line Silver Bluff hopes to figure out.


Silver Bluff:


• Carneal Hall, DL. Head coach Al Lown said Hall is going to be the biggest impact player along the defensive front due to Abbeville's talented offense.


• Myles Corbitt, RB. Corbitt will see plenty of carries in the Bulldog's Wing-T scheme. He had impressive numbers last season despite splitting time with Shaquez Wright and RJ Stallings, who are now gone.


• Tarron Jackson, LB. Al Lown has said all offseason that the defense will carry the Bulldogs early on. Jackson has been one of the players who Lown expects to anchor the defense.


What this means:


Abbeville is a traditional power but is coming off of a 4-8 season. Only three years removed from a state championship in Class A, the Panthers will be looking to show that last season was a fluke against the reigning Class AA, Division II Lower State champion. Silver Bluff, on the other hand, will be looking to get back to a state championship game despite losing several key parts from last season's team.


The Bulldogs enter the season in a tie for the No. 9 spot in the Class AA Media Poll. Abbeville also received votes in the poll.


Many of the lingering questions surrounding this year's Bulldogs will get answered in a tough opening matchup. Regardless of the Panthers' finish last season, Lown and the Bulldogs won't be taking the team lightly.


“They've been one of the top Class AA teams in the state for a long time,” Lown said. “This year is no different. They have a talented team and can compete with the best.”


Keys to the game:


The game may be won or lost in the trenches along the line. Both teams boast a strong running game making the play of the offensive and defensive line crucial for each. Lown was quick to point out the physicality of the Panthers' defensive front while also noting that his guys have some experience along the defensive line as well.


The key for the Bulldogs will be to play with more pace, according to Lown.


“We've got to play faster,” he said. “A lot of the slower play comes for the uncertainty of what we're doing. We have some young players so that's expected at times, but we have to play faster without getting to much ahead of ourselves.”


Lown added that the speedy play needs to happen on both sides of the ball.


One key absence for Abbeville will be defensive back Ventray Belton, who tore his ACL in practice.


What they're saying:


“Everybody knows we're all about the fundamentals. We're going to focus on the fundamentals. We won't be out there running a bunch of different plays, but we want to be sharp in the plays we do run. That's the key to everything,” — Al Lown, Silver Bluff head coach.


DREHER at FOX CREEK

Last time they played:


Dreher beat Fox Creek 29-6 last season.


Players to watch:


Dreher:


• Avery Armstrong, QB. The junior quarterback is considered by some to be the best in Region 4-AAA. He finished the 2013 season with 1,331 and 12 touchdowns. He completed 61 percent of his passes.


• Donovan Ward, RB. The 5-foot-8 180-pound back has been characterized as a shifty running back with quick feet. He will be one of the returning players with some experience for the Blue Devils.


• Andrew Kendrick, MLB. The Blue Devils may have lost talented linebacker Jason Carter, but Andrew Kendrick is still in the fold. Kendrick was a big part of the Dreher defensive unit last season at middle linebacker.


Fox Creek:


• Dalton Swires, RB/DB. Swires rushed for 350 yards and six touchdowns last season while splitting time in the backfield. This season his role in the offense and defense will be vital to the Predators success.


• Cory Lucas, DL. Lucas led the team in tackles last season and is expected to make an impact along the line again this year.


• Caleb Charlton, QB. The sophomore signal caller will make his first start under center. Head coach Russ Schneider has been pleased with what Charlton has shown in the offseason.


What this means:


The Predators will once again get a chance to open their season against Class AAA competition. While Fox Creek will obviously be out to win the game, it will be a measuring stick for Schneider and his squad. Another bonus will be the playoff points that come from the game. The Predators are hungry to get into the postseason this year after missing out last season.


“We get points toward the playoffs just by playing them, so we really have nothing to lose,” Schneider said. “We've played pretty well against them in the past. We haven't had the results we wanted, but we have competed. We aren't going to change anything up because they're AAA. We're going to play our game.”


Keys to the game:


Fox Creek's offense will be under new leadership this season as former Greenbrier head coach Mickey Derrick took over as the offensive coordinator. Schneider has said the addition has been great for the offense. The offense will be one of the keys for Fox Creek in the game. Schneider has been pleased with the offensive unit throughout the preseason and hopes it continues.


“I feel like we were flowing pretty well in the Jamboree and our scrimmages,” he said. “Hopefully we will pick up where we left off. I want to see them execute the things we've be saying we need to do.”


On the defensive side of the ball, the Predators will have to contend with the offense led by Armstrong, who can pass and run the ball effectively. Schneider wants to be able to contain Armstrong but doesn't want his team to lose sight of the other talented weapons Dreher has on the offensive side of the ball.


“Once again, it's about playing our game. He can throw it as well as he can run the ball, but he's not our only focus,” Schneider said. “They're really talented everywhere, so we need to stay discipline and stick to the plan on defense.”


What they're saying:


“The biggest thing might be surviving the heat, to be honest. Our guys play both ways, and they are a bit bigger so they have a larger roster. We need to make sure we're conditioned and ready to go. Need to have enough gas in the tank to make it through the game,” —Russ Schneider, Fox Creek head coach.


WILLISTON-ELKO at BAMBERG-EHRHARDT

Last time they played:


Bamberg-Ehrhardt won 13-7 in 2007.


Players to watch:


Williston-Elko:


• Daniel Smith, OL/DL. The 6-foot-3, 280-pound junior will face a stern test, as head coach Derek Youngblood said Clemson commit LaSamuel Davis will provide Smith with a measuring stick for his abilities as a left tackle.


• Devon Fagans, RB/LB. The junior brings a blend of power and speed, which makes him more than capable of getting the 4 yards that Youngblood said the offense calls for on each rush.


• Christian Sapp, WR/DB. Sapp was out of the jamboree with an ankle injury, but Youngblood was hopeful the Blue Devils would have such an “integral part of the entire football team” back in action today.


Bamberg-Ehrhardt:


• LaSamuel Davis, DE. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds and “very athletic,” Davis also drew the description of “freak” from Youngblood. He racked up 112 tackles and seven sacks as a junior.


• Drew Wilson, OL. Wilson is just a junior and, like Smith, is listed at 6-3 and 280 pounds. Youngblood compared him to another former Blue Devil, current Clemson freshman Taylor Hearn, for his ability to move for his size.


• Savalas Cann, WR/DB. Cann, a sophomore, already has offers from N.C. State and Clemson, and he'll also split time with Garrett Zeigler at quarterback.


What this means:


For Youngblood, tonight's game is the beginning of his head coaching career after taking over for his boss of seven years, Dwayne Garrick. Adding to the memorable nature of the game is the fact that Youngblood is also a Williston-Elko grad.


“It's a little bit surreal,” he said. “It's just going to be an honor.”


In addition to the off-the-field significance, Youngblood will be looking to reverse a negative early-season trend on the field. While the Blue Devils have won five straight region titles with undefeated records in region, they've lost two of their past three season openers.


And in each of the past three seasons, Williston-Elko has lost two of its first three games.


Keys to the game:


If the Blue Devils are going to avoid a season-opening loss this year, they'll have to account for the Red Raiders' big-name players. On offense, that will mean double-teaming Davis as often as possible, Youngblood said.


“In my seven years of coaching at Williston, he's probably one of the best defensive players we've come up against,” Youngblood said.


When the Red Raiders have the ball, the Blue Devils will be keeping an eye on where Cann is lining up. Youngblood described Cann as a “home run threat” when the ball gets to him as part of Bamberg-Ehrhardt's spread attack, which also includes a running game that has a triple-option feel.


“We've just got to account for everybody, and everybody's got to do their job,” Youngblood said.


In addition, the Blue Devils will have to handle a “hostile environment,” with an expected large crowd of Red Raider faithful. Youngblood said the team will face similar fan bases at Silver Bluff and Barnwell the next two weeks.


“One of the things that we've told them … we're going to have to get comfortable being uncomfortable,” he said.


What they're saying:


“There's a lot of firsts that's going to happen on Friday night,” — Derek Youngblood, Williston-Elko head coach