MOULTRIE – Jaycee Harden has been on a record setting passing pace this season – especially over the last three games – but he and his receivers will be facing a group of ball-hawking Rams on Friday.
Over the first four games of the season, Colquitt County’s senior quarterback has thrown for 1,216 yards and 14 touchdowns and is on pace to challenge some of the school’s passing records.
The Packers season record for passing yards is 3,501 and for touchdowns is 40, both set by Chase Parrish in 2015 when the Packers went 15-0.
Harden’s blistering start, averaging 304 yards a game, is better than Parrish’s 233.4.
And he is averaging 3.5 touchdown passes a game, so far better than Parrish’s.
Harden has been especially proficient over the last three games, throwing for 341 yards ane four touchdowns against Thomasville; 491 and five against Valdosta; and 333 and four in last Friday’s victory over Warner Robins that raised the Packers record to 3-1.
“He’s a talented kid,” Packers head coach Justin Rogers said of Harden. “He’s got a strong arm, a quick release and he understands where people will be and he gets the ball out on time.
“He goes through his progressions to find the open guy.”
And that “open guy” could be any one of nine Packers who have at least one pass reception through the first four games.
Lemeke Brockington is the leading receiver with 22 catches for 328 yards and six touchdowns.
But Tajh Sanders has 19 receptions for three touchdowns and Tyler Walker has 15 for 182 and a score, so Harden is distributing the ball well.
Running back Daijun Edwards had eight catches and is averaging 18.8 yards on each one.
Dijmon “Baby D” Wheeler has seven catches and while tight end Carter Boatwright has just three, he has been injured and is expected to become more of a factor in the passing game.
Rogers is as pleased by the receiving corps mental approach to the game as its ability to catch passes.
Harden probably threw more than the Packers had planned against the Demons when the Demons flooded the box and gave Edwards, who is now withon 16 yards of becoming the Packers all-time leading rusher, no room to maneuver.
“Hey, we’re not going to bang our heads against a wall,” Rogers said.
Even Edwards realized what was happening against the Demons and told Rogers in the second quarter, “Keep throwing it. It’s working.”
Another key to Harden’s success has been the strong pass blocking of the Packers under-sized offensive line.
“We’re a little light there,” Rogers said. “No real big guys. But we’re six or seven deep and we’ve done a great job protecting.”
Harden, the receivers and the offensive line will likely face their biggest challenge tonight against Grayson. The Rams secondary is athletic and had its best game in the 28-14 upset of nationally ranked Marietta two weeks ago.
Grayson picked off the Blue Devils’ highly regarded quarterback Harrison Bailey four times.
Bailey completed 19-of-35 passes for 229 yards, but did not throw a touchdown pass.
Two of those interceptions were made by junior Jibrahn Claude. Junior Masyas Fox and sophomore Marquis “Deuce” Killebrew had the others.
“They’ve got a good group of DBs,” Rogers said. “And we just can’t turn it over.”
Defensively, the Packers will have to stop a diverse Grayson offense that features big running back Lafayette Gurvin, a 205-pounder.
“He’s a big back and he runs hard,” Rogers said.
“They are going to try to find ways to get him the ball.
“But they are balanced and will take what we give them. They are willing to win in different ways.”
Tall senior quarterback C.J. Dixon will trigger the Grayson offense.
Jamal Haynes is the leading receiver.
The Packers are still dealing with several key injuries on the defense.
Traveon Tuff is gone for the season after suffering a broken ankle against Warner Robins.
Linebacker Jordan Calhoun is still dealing with the effects of a stinger.
It is unclear whether lineman Zy Brockington and linebacker Callon Kubiak will play and how effective they will be if they do.
“It’s been a lot of ‘next man up’ for our defense,” Rogers said, adding he was pleased by the play of the makeshift defense, which allowed just one touchdown.
He was especially pleased with the play nose guard Marcus Ponder and Biron Silas, who moved from outside to inside linebacker.
Junior defensive back Omarion Daniels turned in a big end zone interception and 61-yard return.