High School Football

Ridgeland-Hardeeville braces for Loris defense in 2nd round of playoffs

mmccombs@islandpacket.comNovember 15, 2013 

Looking at the stat sheet for the Loris defense, it's hard not to come away impressed.

The Lions (8-2) of Region 8-AA surrender an average of 147.6 yards per game. They give up just 9.6 first downs and 10.9 points a game. And they average two and a half takeaways.

Listening to Ridgeland-Hardeeville head coach Blake Raley talk about the Loris defense after watching it on film is a lot like looking at the stat sheet.

"I would say in the (secondary), they have four of the quickest guys we've seen," Raley said. "They cover a lot of ground in a little bit of time. Up front, they're quick, big and physical. While their size is not overwhelming, they have some well put-together men. And they've been consistently good all year."

In other words, the Jaguars (7-3) have their work cut out for them on Friday night in the second round of the Class 2-A Division I playoffs.

"Obviously, we've faced some really good D-linemen over the course of this year," Raley said. "(Bluffton's Shamiek) Blackshear, Poona (Ford of Hilton Head Island) and (Michael) Barnett from Woodland. But these guys are physical."

Seventeen of Loris defensive tackle Jordan Hemingway's 67 tackles are for loss. He has 5 1/2 sacks and three forced fumbles. He's joined on the defense by Malik Vereen (91 tackles, 25 TFL), Tyree Floyd (52 tackles, 22 TFL, 4 1/2 sacks), Quavon Bellamy (14 tackles per game) and a host of other standouts.

As a result, Raley is shuffling personnel on offense to give the Jaguars better matchups.

"We're going to do some things we haven't done this year," he said. "I won't give it all away, but we're going to try some things matchup-wise."

Raley said the Jaguars definitely can't afford to turn the ball over and will be forced to play a field-position game. He's hopeful the Jaguars can put together long drives and get points out of them.

"They're very opportunistic with their defense," Raley said. "They create things with the defense and special teams."

If the Loris defense is spectacular, Raley said the Lions' offense is solid. They don't appear to have a high-powered offense, however, he said they aren't without weapons.

"You can't let the (RB Stacy) Dozier kid and (WR Ryan) Bellamy kid get away from you," Raley said. "You're not going to chase them down, I'll tell you that."

Raley calls quarterback Bennett Williams a good game manager for Loris, which mixes up variations of three-back sets looking to create some mismatches.

One of the Lions' most dynamic players has been day-to-day and a question mark for Friday's contest. Levi Moody is Loris' top linebacker and leading rusher (7.6 yards per carry, 14 touchdowns), but he's had a banged-up ankle and shoulder.

But with the Lions coming off a first-round bye for the third straight year, it looks like he'll play.

"They're good, and a 3 1/2-hour bus ride is going to factor in, but I say we have as good a chance as anybody," Raley said. "But if we come home with a W, it'll be the best 3 1/2-hour bus ride we've ever taken."

Class 2-A Division I

Ridgeland-Hardeeville (7-4) at Loris (8-2)

Last meeting: First meeting

The skinny: Coach Blake Raley has the Jaguars in uncharted waters after a 14-12 first-round playoff win over Lake City. But they have their work cut out for them against a stingy Loris defense.

Players to watch: If he plays, Loris RB/LB Levi Moody is a game-changer. On offense, he's carried 112 times for 847 yards (7.6 avg.) and 14 touchdowns. As a linebacker, he has 14 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.

Keys to the game: The Jaguars have to be smart and catch some breaks to defeat No. 10 Loris. On offense, they have to avoid turnovers and put together some long drives that net points. Three-and-outs could be just as bad as turnovers. The Jaguars want to run the ball and shorten the game.

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