Game of the Week: Rebels, Yellow Jackets meet in physical rivalry matchup

September 21, 2018

There’s no avoiding the storylines heading into Friday night’s showdown between North Augusta and Strom Thurmond in the Aiken Standard Game of the Week. The coaches will stress that it’s a big test before region play. The players, who are very familiar with each other, get excited for the rivalry aspect.

Thanks to that, the fans tend to get quality high school football. This year, they can expect a lot of physical play.

“You get these close rivalries. Those guys, they all know each other in some kind of way, so they want to compete at the highest level with them,” North Augusta head coach Brian Thomas said. “Coach (Antwaun) Hillary and those guys do a great job of getting prepared and ready to play. Hopefully we’ll match that, as well.”

How has Hillary gotten his team prepared? By trying to make sure his players don’t get too caught up in the big-time atmosphere.

“Every game on our schedule is a big game for us. We know we’ve got to play our best and we know everybody is going to play us hard. That hasn’t change since I’ve been here – 12 years,” Hillary said. “We’re just trying to get our kids to prepare like we always do but not make this game bigger than what it is. We know it’s big, but we need to treat it as what it is. It’s a rivalry game to get us ready for region play.”

North Augusta (4-1) spent the bye week focusing on fundamental things it messed up in its previous game. The Yellow Jackets struggled to finish against Blythewood and couldn’t hang on to a 12-0 lead in a 15-12 loss, so there were some things to get in order before putting in the game plan for Strom Thurmond (4-1).

“They’re physical and they’re gonna run the football. They’re big and athletic, so we’re gonna have to be ready,” Thomas said.

In fact, Strom Thurmond has run the ball more than 45 times on three occasions this season, relying heavily on area leading rusher Stanley Hill. Hill has 619 rushing yards and six touchdowns through five games.

Thomas isn’t the only one preparing for a very physical game. The Rebels are focusing on the things that have made them successful each week so far – physicality, tackling and getting off the field on third down. The last of those three was difficult for Strom Thurmond on a few occasions in last week’s victory against Emerald. The Vikings were able to convert some crucial third downs, including a few with the help of penalties by the Rebels.

Hillary was pleased with what he saw from his team in practice to correct that and its other issues in the secondary as it prepares for Tanner White and the North Augusta offense. White has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes and thrown for 446 yards. Jacari Buckson is among the area’s top five rushers with 326 yards.

“They’ve got some skill guys that can go, and (White) is a pretty good player,” Hillary said. “The running back (Buckson) is pretty good. We’ve just got to tackle and be physical. We’re just trying to keep the game the same. That’s what we’ve been preaching to our kids.”

Hillary believes a bit of added attention to detail in practice this week has them on the right track.

“We’ve had some great days as far as communicating, recognizing route concepts and getting that pre-snap read and playing fast. I’ve been pretty pleased with that in practice,” Hillary said. “Hopefully that can transfer to the game.”

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