u JCHS hosts Baldwin in home opener on Friday night
Jones County’s Greyhounds survived a tougher test than they were expecting, rallying in the second half to open the season with a 34-28 win over the Howard Huskies in Macon last Thursday.
“We made a lot of mistakes, especially in the first half,” coach Justin Rogers told his players after the game. “But I’m so proud of you for not giving up and start pointing fingers and getting down on each other. A lesser bunch would have rolled over. You kept battling and found a way to come back and win.
“But I think you also see we need to have better efforts in practice so we can eliminate the mistakes and get better. I hope this shows you we still need to do a lot of work to get to where we want to be.”
The Jones County players will get a chance to see how much they have improved when they host Baldwin High Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in their home opener at Greyhound Stadium.
Baldwin is 0-1 after losing 19-7 at home against Washington County last week.
This will be the first time since 2007 the Greyhounds have played their neighbors from Milledgeville in football. Baldwin holds a 9-4-3 advantage over Jones County and has won the last three meetings.
“Baldwin is really athletic and has a lot of kids who can run,” Rogers said. “They’ll be a good test, because that’s what we’ll see when we get to playing region games.
“They use a spread offense kind of like us, but it is almost all option-based, mostly out of the shotgun. On defense, they use a four-man front with two high safeties a lot, but they also bounce around into other things. They like to blitz and stunt a lot, so we’ll need to be quick.”
Jesse Hicks is in his second stint as Baldwin’s head coach, entering his second season after being away for seven years at Dougherty and Central-Macon. He has a 100-78-0 career record.
Rogers is 38-12 in his fifth season in Gray.
Against Howard last week, Jones County junior Hunter Costlow passed for 294 yards and five touchdowns, three to sophomore Maleek Wooten and two to junior Caden Mutchler. Senior Semaj Ingram ran for 73 yards on 18 carries.
Junior Jeremiah Kelly ran for 141 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries and senior quarterback Quintan Sewell added 103 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries to lead the Huskies.
The Greyhounds jumped ahead quickly when Mutchler raced 65 yards after catching a screen pass from Costlow on Jones County’s first play on offense.
But the Greyhounds struggled most of the rest of the first half.
Howard put together a 60-yard, 12-play scoring drive late in the first quarter, finishing with a 2-yard sneak by Sewell. He passed to Aldan Stewart for the two-point conversion to give the Huskies an 8-7 lead.
They stretched the lead to 15-7 early in the second quarter when Isaiah Edwards picked up a fumbled pitch by the Greyhounds at midfield and returned it for a touchdown.
A diving interception by senior Jordan Davis at the Howard 41 set up another quick score for Jones County midway through the quarter.
Wooten took a little forward toss from Costlow as he streaked in front of him in motion from the left and raced around right end for a 59-yard touchdown, but a bad snap and subsequent missed pass on the extra point attempt left the Greyhounds trailing 15-13.
Howard extended its lead to 21-13 by driving 67 yards in six plays to open the second half, with Kelly scoring on a 13-yard run over left tackle.
Jones County finally pulled even at 21-21 late in the third quarter when Wooten, who had dropped a couple of passes earlier, made a leaping grab in the end zone on a 35-yard pass from Costlow on a thirddown play. Jontavias Robertson ran in for the twopoint conversion to tie the score.
The Greyhounds went 75 yards the first time they had the ball in the third quarter, with Mutchler pulling in a 27-yard pass from Costlow for the go-ahead touchdown, making it 28-21.
But after a nearly 30-yard kickoff return by Javarsia Meadows, the Huskies answered with a 50-yard, six-play drive to tie the score 28-28 on a 1-yard sneak by Sewell with 6:23 to play.
Jones County would not relent, however. After picking up one first down on three running plays and an offside penalty against Howard, Costlow hit Wooten with a long pass down the left side, and he made a couple of defenders miss as he raced on into the end zone to complete the 53-yard touchdown with 4:34 to play.
The Huskies would not quit, either. Kelly began running them down the field, starting with runs of 11 and 23 yards. But the Greyhounds’ defense held on fourth down at their own 25, and Jones County was able to run out the final minute to secure the victory.
“Sometimes you have to just keep grinding and find a way to win ugly,” Rogers said. “I think we saw our kids will fight. They didn’t play well at times, but they played hard and showed they want to be good. They showed they have character, because there were many times in that game they could have quit.
“We played bad the first half. But they listened and took some coaching at halftime and made improvements. We’re going to need to do that, and that was encouraging.”
Wooten was the offensive and overall player of the game for Jones County. Junior linebacker Britton Jones, who missed last season with an injury, was defensive player of the game with 10 solo tackles, eight assists and one tackle for loss.
Freshman Ethan West was special teams player of the game, kicking two extra points and placing his kickoffs where he intended.
“He made the kicks when we had good snaps, but we had bad snaps a couple of times that kept him from kicking. That’s still something we have to get right,” Rogers said.
Scout team players of the week were junior wide receiver Evan Meeks on offense and senior lineman Sharrod Bryant on defense. They are honored for their work in practice each week.
“We’ve changed the way we do the scout team players. We announce them on Thursday now, and they are among the captains for the game,” Rogers said.
Jones County, which was No. 8 in the AJC preseason poll, fell one spot to No. 9 in the rankings released this week.