Coffee County (0-5) is looking for its first win of the season. Although the Panthers sport a 3-2 record, the District 6-AAA team has simply not faced the level of competition that Coffee County has. With the notable exception of a 38-8 blowout against cross-county rival Cumberland County, a Class 5A school, Stone Memorial’s wins have come against much smaller opponents: a 6-5 edging of Livingston Academy (Class 4A) and a 35-7 trouncing of Class 1A Pickett County. What’s more, one of Stone’s losses came against Class 4A DeKalb County.
Coffee County, in contrast, has faced nothing but 6A and 5A opponents, with the exception of Battle Ground Academy, which competes in Division II. In their past two contests, the Raiders have kept the score closer than the 30-plus-point blowouts in the opening three games. CHS coach Lee Davis wants tonight to be the occasion where the Raiders finally close the gap.
“Stone Memorial is a young team; they’re starting four freshmen on defense,” Davis said. “They’re a young team, and we’ve got to go up there and get a win. We’ve got to get this thing started.”
Both Davis and Stone Memorial head coach Mark Wattenbarger stress the importance of playing with emotion. Both teams should find plenty of reason to be emotional at Panther Stadium tonight as the Raiders look for their first win and Stone seeks to maintain its winning record.
The Panthers will bring a balanced offense with senior quarterback Brady Wattenbarger at the helm. Stone is averaging 158 yards per game rushing and 127 in the air. Wattenbarger enjoys a 58 percent completion percentage on 42 connections in 73 attempts. He will likely spend much of the night looking primarily for senior Brian Frye (13 receptions, 243 yards) and sophomore Austin Helton (10-205). Those two will be backed by a stable of receivers with demonstrated ability to catch and move the ball.
Stone’s biggest offensive threat, however, comes from sophomore running back Justin Johnson, averaging 6.1 yards per carry on 89 totes this season. If the Raiders are able to contain Johnson, they will still need to keep an eye on Nathaniel Clanton, averaging 5.0 yards per carry.
For their part the Raiders will continue to be a threat in the air. This season CHS is averaging 184 yards passing per game compared to only 78 on the ground. CHS quarterback Peyton Meeker has connected for 59 completions this season, the majority to senior Chris Vaughn and junior Cole Hawkins. Like the Panthers, Coffee County enjoys depth at receiver with John Reece Gilmer, Garrett Eldridge, Boone Riddle and Grayson Miller among those helping move the ball through the air.
On the ground the Raiders will continue to rely on workhorses Cody Howes (44 carries, 5.3 yd. avg.) and Dalton Carter (39-1.8). As the season has progressed Coffee County has increasingly called on freshman Reece Pratt, who brings size to the backfield and has shown the ability to gain short yardage on critical plays. CHS can also rely on Hunter Smithson, Gavin Husted, Ben Hosea and others to carry the ball when needed.
The Raiders will need more bright spots like those that shined in last week’s loss to Lawrence County: in addition to several big receptions by Vaughn, junior David Keith snagged two interceptions and gained 134 yards on six kick returns, and freshman Tyrese McGee made several saving tackles at safety.
Among the assistant coaches at tonight’s game for Stone Memorial will be former CHS head coach Eddie Nunley.
Kickoff tonight is at 7 p.m. For driving directions to Panther Stadium, click here.