Back to the fundamentals: Jaguars begin season 0-2

After a 10-3 loss in the season opener against crosstown rival Clarke Central, the Cedar Shoals Jaguars hoped to rebound against a dominant Oconee County offense led by senior quarterback West Weeks. The game plan was clear: slow down the Warrior’s offense and control the tempo. The Jaguars were unable to do so, losing 35-0.

“Our main focus [coming into the game] was trying to stop their offense from getting set. We knew from last year that they had some very talented players and I felt like in the beginning of the game we held them down very well defensively,” Jaguar Head Coach Leroy Ryals said.   

The Warriors jumped out to a quick lead behind strong field position and Weeks’  1-yard touchdown run. 

Behind junior running backs Jerdavian Colbert and Caleb Allen, the Jaguars ran the ball inside the Oconee 20-yard line. Senior kicker William Fang set up for a 29-yard field goal, but the Warriors blocked it and returned the ball 70-yard for a touchdown. Jaguar quarterback sophomore Mandrell Glenn then coughed up the football on the next Jaguar drive.

“Our offense was unable to respond after they put up a few points on us. After they got the blocked field goal and were able to return it for a touchdown the momentum of the game shifted and coming back from that is pretty difficult especially with this younger team of players,” Ryals said. 

Up by 14 early, Warriors backup junior quarterback Jacob Wright entered the game and completed his first pass:a 25-yard bomb to the back of the endzone caught by sophomore wide receiver Dylan Manders for another Oconee touchdown, giving the Warriors a 21-0 lead.

The Jaguars finally responded with multiple runs by Colbert and three complete passes by Glenn, including a 9-yard dart to junior wide receiver Marik Armstrong that tacked on a lowering the head to make contact penalty that allowed  the Jaguars to set up in the red zone. The same ball control problems persisted as the Jaguars turned over another fumble 5 yards short of the end zone.

“The little mistakes were really reflective in our gameplay,” said Colbert, who had one fumble and was held to just 43 rushing yards before leaving the game with an injury. “It’s not that our offense is bad. What has really stopped our progression offensively is that we haven’t really gotten used to each other’s playing styles yet.” 

Carrying the offense: Junior running back Jerdavian Colbert awaits a handoff from quarterback Mandrell Glenn. With most of the Jaguar offense centered around Colbert’s ground game, Cedar Shoals failed to score against Oconee County after Colbert exited the game. Photo by Patrick Redmond.

After the fumble, the Warriors then marched down the field with a combination of short runs and passes over the middle. On the seventh play of the drive, sophomore running back C.J. Jones ran for a 6-yard touchdown to put the Warriors up 28-0 at halftime. Right before halftime, Colbert appeared to be grimacing his right knee, he would not return for the remainder of the game. 

“[Colbert] has been cleared to return to practice by the trainer,” Ryals said.

Cedar continued to be its own worst enemy on offense as yet another promising drive ended in a turnover. After multiple runs up the middle by Allen, Glenn then threw a 13-yard pass to junior wide receiver Renardo Faust, the longest Jaguar completion of the night. Allen then broke loose to move the ball inside the Warrior 35, but another Glenn pass was deflected and intercepted by Oconee defensive back Wilt Weeks and returned 75-yards to put the Warriors up 35-0. 

“Coming into the game we needed to focus on the little things”, said senior linebacker David Cross said. “Watching the ball and knowing your assignments, cutting down on penalties and playing disciplined gives you a chance to win which we need to do a better job at.”.

The Warriors improved their record to 2-0 on the season while the Jaguars dropped to 0-2.

Coming into the bye week, Coach Ryals feels his team has an opportunity to polish mistakes even after their worst start since 2015.  

“This season is definitely going to be a challenge. A lot of issues are that we haven’t played football in a while with the pandemic pushing the season back two weeks and all of the new COVID-19 limits, so the team isn’t as far down the road as I hoped. This bye week gives us a chance to get back to the fundamentals and turn this season around,” Ryals said.