After punching up in its first two games of the season, McIntosh County Academy is finally set to face off against an opponent in its weight class Friday when it travels to Millen for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff against Jenkins County at Eagles Stadium.
The matchup between the Buccaneers and War Eagles is an inter-region contest pitting Region 3-A Division A’s McIntosh (0-2) against Division B’s Jenkins County (1-2).
Friday will be the 10th meeting between the programs, and the fourth straight season the game will be played following an 11-year gap in the series between 2005 and 2016. MCA leads the series with a 6-3 record, but Jenkins County has won the last two contests.
A year ago, the War Eagles beat the Buccaneers 28-14 in the third of eight consecutive losses for McIntosh en route to a 1-9 season, but a lot has changed in the time since.
Both MCA and Jenkins County have new head coaches this season with Bradley Warren, the coach with the highest winning percentage in Buccaneers’ program history, returning to Darien and former Lee County head coach David Johnson taking over in Millen.
Jenkins County has also lost a lot of talent from last season’s team, including six All-Region 3-A Division B first teamers in running back Jujuan Major, receiver Trey Kelsey, defensive lineman Tyler Ellis, linebacker Ty Evans, and defensive backs A.J. Young and Michael Milton. The War Eagles also saw all-region second team receiver Tykese Milton, edge rusher Markeith Wright, and defensive back Cameron Brady graduate.
There’s still plenty of talent in the Jenkins County trenches though. Offensive linemen Jaylen Herrington and Johnathon Coleman, and defensive lineman Dominique Mills, were each second team all-region and return to the field this season.
Returning all-region players for McIntosh include: defensive back Isaiah Jason, offensive lineman Azavan Lawton, defensive lineman Josh Amerson, linebacker Tyler Crosby and punter Seth Maxwell.
With most of the Buccaneers’ returning talent on defense, it should come as no surprise that the team has been at its best on that side of the ball thus far this season.
Despite allowing 83 points in two games against Class 3A Pierce County and 6A Brunswick High, the McIntosh County Academy defense has hung tough for the most part against teams with much more depth than the Buccaneers can churn out.
“Playing a team like Pierce, who’s won 15 of their last 16 ball games, we were beating them in the first quarter and we kind of ran out of depth and they got us really hard late,” Warren said. “We played Brunswick really well for three quarters — first, third and fourth — and then they scored 20-something points the second quarter.
“We’re hoping that playing two quarters against Pierce with a really high intensity, and playing three really good quarters against Brunswick, that we can put four quarters together against this team.”
A pair of interceptions and fumble recoveries fueled Pierce County’s big game, as the offense only recorded 275 yards against McIntosh. Brunswick totaled 376 yards of offense, but four of its five touchdowns came in the second quarter — two coming off Buccaneer turnovers on their side of the field.
MCA’s defensive performance may have been even better had it not tested its depth the past two weeks and played most of its roster in an effort to keep up with the cycling in of fresh bodies. Warren felt it was obvious when his team began to get tired.
The rotations were also prevalent for the Buccaneers on the offensive side of the ball as seven different backs rotated into the game against the Pirates.
McIntosh hasn’t been quite able to get its offense revved up with just seven points in two games and only 70 yards in its last contest, but Warren believes a breakthrough is just around the corner as the players become more comfortable in the wing-T.
“Honestly, we’re still learning the system here,” Warren said. “We’ve been playing really well on defense and special teams. The offense is sputtering a little bit right now, but we feel like we’re due on offense.
“We’re getting better everyday at practice on offense. We’re due.”