November 21, 2017

Times-Georgian: ‘Braves on the playoff warpath’

Courtesy of Corey Cusick and the Times-Georgian

(Franklin, GA) — Although Emory Jones garners a great deal of regional, statewide and even national attention for the Heard County High School football program, he hasn’t been a one-man show at Staples Stadium this fall.

The Ohio State commit and No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the nation for the Class of 2018 is certainly deserving of all the recognition he’s received up to this point in his prep career, but the senior standout will be the first to attest that the firepower around him serves as the spark to ignite the Braves’ explosive offensive arsenal.

With play-makers like Jaden Moreland and Alijah Huzzie utilized as both deep threats and perimeter options and bruising beast Aaron Beasley coming out of the backfield, the sixth-ranked and top-seeded Braves (9-1) are loading up for a deep run in the Class AA state playoff bracket, beginning with Friday’s 7:30 p.m. first-round matchup against fourth-seeded South Atlanta (5-5).

As the catalyst of the offense, Jones appreciates all the blue-collar work put in up front to protect him, along with the ability and cohesion of his skill players to make it operate at such a high level to where the Braves are averaging 34.6 points per contest entering the postseason.

“Just having these people around me, they make me look better. It’s definitely a blessing. We opened the offense this year so I can show what I can really do,” Jones said.

One element that Heard County head coach Tim Barron feels has been a major factor for his offense this fall is its versatility and ability to hurt a defense in a variety of ways.

“We’ve had some talented bunches come through, but I don’t know that we’ve had a bunch come through that is so balanced,” Barron said. “We’ve got some good receivers, we’ve got a really good quarterback, we’ve got a really good running back. You combine that with a good offensive line, it’s just a much more balanced team than we’ve had offensively. In 2005 and 2006, we were extremely talented up front and certainly had a good running back game, but you didn’t have that passing game to go along with it.”

Jones agreed that balance has been a key change of pace to the Heard County formula this fall, as the addition of Beasley has delivered an entirely new dynamic to the unit.

“That’s a big thing because I don’t think anybody can stop us. If they stop the run, we’re going to pass the ball. If they stop the pass, we’re going to run,” Jones said. “It’s a hard thing to deal with and it’s a big advantage for us.”

Moreland, who is also a Division I recruit with 15 offers, said knowing that this is the final playoff ride for the Heard County seniors stirs up even more energy and intensity than the playoffs already encapsulate.

Pictured above left to right are Alijah Huzzie, Jaden Moreland, Emory Jones, and Aaron Beasley (Photo: Corey Cusick/Times-Georgian)

“It’s getting toward the end, so it feels like things are coming together,” Moreland said. “With it being your last year, you’ve got to give it everything you’ve got. That’s what we plan to do.”

Barron has also taken notice to a different demeanor among his senior leaders.

“I think that the expectations are different than from their ninth to 11th-grade year, as far as just getting here. I think their expectations are higher now that we’re here with those guys being seniors,” Barron said. “You can see it in their eyes that they’ve got some goals in mind. They understand the importance of each week. There’s no sense of satisfaction amongst that group.”

And with the heightened sense of urgency, Heard County’s key play-makers, who also play on defense and special teams, will see their roles and responsibilities become even more demanding across the board.

“To me, on your punt team and on your kickoff team, they’re just so valuable and there’s so much space. We’ve discussed it with those guys that we’ll have to rest them on offense or rest them on defense. They’re going to have to go on most of these special teams from here on out,” Barron said. “You make a mistake in the regular season, you get to correct it next week. You make a mistake now, you’re sitting at the house watching somebody else play.”

The Braves kick off the playoffs against the exact same team they opened the 2017 campaign against on Aug. 18, but they don’t expect the same type of buzz from the Hornets this time around.

Featuring a triple-option attack, South Atlanta has made strides over the course of the fall since the 42-16 setback at Staples Stadium nearly three months ago. But the Braves are confident that they’re a better ballclub now, as well, and if they come ready to play, it’ll be on to round two.

“They’re definitely a better team. They’re better, but we’ve gotten better, too,” Jones said. “So if we just focus on us, I think we’ll be good.”

And with the core pieces in place and a quality supporting cast across the field, the Braves believe the stars are aligned to make a run at the Class AA crown over the next month.

“I think we really do have a big shot at that. We’ve just got to focus on us and do what we have to do. Just keep working in practice, do what we’re doing in the classroom and just keep ballin’,” Jones said.

Friday night’s contest will broadcast live on B-92.1 FM.

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