Week 6 preview: The 52nd meeting of Cedar Shoals and Clarke Central

Coming into the Classic City Championship, both Cedar and Central are 3-2 on the season entering their first region matchup of the year.

Both teams won against Oconee, Cedar with the shutout 14-0 and Central winning 17-10.   One key difference in each game was the performance of Oconee County’s highly touted quarterback, Max Johnson. Against Central, Johnson threw for 210 yards on 17-35 attempts; against Cedar, Johnson went only for 8-20 and 43 yards total.

Last season, Central beat Cedar at home 49-7  to extend their win streak over Cedar to 10 straight years in football.

This season has been different for both teams. Central no longer has Jack Mangel starting at quarterback. He graduated and went on to Catawba College. Cedar graduated valuable veterans in wide receiver Ja’Vanni McDavid and running back Jerphari Colbert.

For Central, junior Issac Ward has stepped up to fill Mangel’s shoes, throwing for 629 yards on 37-70 passing attempts. He has four touchdowns in the air this season, but he’s not a mobile quarterback.

The offense has evolved for Cedar Shoals as well. Returning senior quarterback KiYonnice Smith has emerged as an effective passing treat with 522 yards on 34-74 attempts and seven touchdowns on the year.

Besides Smith, the other two centerpieces to the Jaguar offense are the starting running backs, Cedar’s own version of thunder and lightning, DeVontae Bankston and Osiris Walker.

Smith is currently third in the region in passing with 522 passing yards, Walker is first in rushing yards having 466 yards, and Bankston barely trails behind him in third with 337 yards. Smith also showcases his running ability with 116 yards on the ground. Many of Cedar’s big gain’s in the passing game have resulted from Smith’s ability to extend plays and create opportunities.

For Cedar Shoals to win the game, they will need to continue to move the ball on the ground to open up passing opportunities for Smith. In their wins this season, the Jags successfully blended Walker and Bankston’s ground game with different screen passes, and ultimately Smith ended up finding open men downfield as defenses adjusted to stop the Jaguars at the line.

The Cedar Shoals defense also has to keep Ward’s arm in check, as he is second in the region in passing yards. Central relies heavily on Ward’s passing game, but running backs O’Brien Barnett, three-star prospect Jonathan Sewell, and Tyreke Lumpkin have racked up an impressive 839 rushing yards together. They have combined for four 100-plus yard performances individually this season.

Defense is going to make or break the game for each team.  Central’s defense has allowed 19 points per game while their offense capitalizes on field position, scoring 23.4 points per game. Cedar’s defense has been outstanding allowing just over 10 points per game but only scoring 15.4.

If Cedar plays as well as they’ve shown so far this season, the Jaguars win 17-14, and Head Coach Leroy Ryals gets his first win over his former school.