JZG football

J.Z. George head coach Rusty Smith speaks to the Jaguars following their first-round win at Pisgah.

J.Z. George ventures into territory it has not seen since the 2016 season as the Jaguars take on East Union High School Friday in the second round of the MHSAA North 2A playoffs.

The Jaguars (6-5) reached this game with their 28-13 first-round win over Pisgah a week ago. J.Z. George and East Union will kick off at 7 p.m. at Farris Jenkins Field.

First-year head coach Rusty Smith is quite familiar with East Union. In 2019, as an assistant coach at Charleston High School, the Tigers faced East Union in the second round of the playoffs. In a twist of irony, Charleston played Pisgah in the first round last year.

“I’ve seen Pisgah and East Union two years in a row as a coach,” said Smith. “I’ve got a pretty good idea of what East Union is going to do. They have a big running back, and they like to pound the ball right at you. They can also throw the ball when they need to. It’s going to take a tremendous effort from our kids to pull this one out.

“We feel good about this matchup, though. Our players and coaches are fired up about this game. Our kids, the small group that we still have out playing, are believing we have a legitimate shot at winning this game. I know this is an old saying, but we are taking them one game at a time. Our focus is on East Union, and us doing the things we need to do to come out with a victory.”

East Union advanced with a 57-6 pounding of O’Bannon High School last week. The Urchins (8-1), who are coached by Todd Lott, broke open a 14-6 game after the first period with a 22-point outburst in the second quarter for a 36-6 lead at the half.

Colton Plunk scored four touchdowns and ran for 132 yards on 14 carries. Quarterback Rett Johnson was 7-of-9 passing for 188 yards with two touchdowns, the longest coming from 75 yards out to Hayden Roberts.

The winner of Friday’s game moves on to the quarterfinals to play the victor of the North Side-Eupora contest on Nov. 20. The other half of the North bracket has Calhoun City facing Mantachie, and East Webster taking on Walnut. All four teams from Region 2 advanced with wins in the first round last week.

“I told people at the beginning of the season this region is like the SEC West of 2A football,” said Smith. “There are some awfully good teams we face during the season, and I think it helped prepare us for the playoffs.”

The Urchins’ lone loss of the season was a 42-20 setback to East Webster. J.Z. George didn’t get to play East Webster on the field because of COVID-19, which shut down East Webster’s football operations for two weeks. The Jags were awarded a forfeit win. One other common opponent between the two teams was Walnut. East Union beat Walnut 56-30, and J.Z. George dropped a 55-28 decision to the Wildcats on Oct. 2.

East Union and J.Z. George met in the first round of the 2016 playoffs with the Jaguars coming out on top 47-7.

Smith was extremely pleased with the way his ground game was able to control the contest against Pisgah.

“We had two starting offensive linemen out last week with injuries, and a third one had just come back, but because of the two injuries, we had to move guys all around the line,” said Smith. “Maybe I should leave it the way it is. We were struggling on offense early. Jordun (Normal) was off a little bit, so we lined up in a power set and put Wil’Tavious (Williams) at quarterback and Jacob (Johnson) at tailback. We didn’t do anything fancy, but Pisgah couldn’t seem to stop it.”

The Jaguars trailed the Dragons 7-0 after the first quarter but a 22-0 run in the second frame gave J.Z. George a 22-7 lead at the half.

“Jacob and Wil controlled the game. We went two tight ends and three backs and just ran the ball right at them,” added Smith. “We did some old Charleston High School play calling.

“We played a little sloppy in the second half. We still had some mistakes that we shouldn’t be making at this point of the season. Those are the things we are working on in practice this week.”

Johnson, a senior, had 113 yards rushing, a touchdown and two-point conversion run on 17 carries. He also played well on defense as he recorded six solos and two assists from his linebacker position.

Williams, also a senior, ran for 112 yards, a touchdown and two-point conversion on 21 carries. He had 14 solo stops on defense to lead the Jaguar defense.

Junior D’Anthony McGlothan had 49 yards rushing on six carries with a touchdown. He had two receptions for 12 yards. On defense, he had four total tackles (three solos) with an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown.

“We played a good game against Pisgah,” said Williams. “Everybody came together, played hard and left everything on the field. We are believing we can keep winning even if no one else believes in us.”

Contact Calvin Stevens at 581-7234 or cstevens@gwcommonwealth.com.

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