If South Pointe’s football team is to win its eighth straight game Friday night and march into the Class AAAA Division II state championship next week, it will have to keep Stratford quarterback Jacob Park in check.
Ray Stackley’s Knights (11-2) have outscored their first two playoff opponents 71-20, and Park’s performances have practically been spotless. That’s not gone unnoticed.
“He’s a great athlete,” said South Pointe coach Strait Herron. “He can throw the ball and run it, and that’s hard to defend.”
Park is the state’s No. 2-rated recruit, according to 247Sports, and he’s rated as the country’s fifth-best pro-style quarterback. The offers poured in, including 12 of note from the SEC and ACC, and Park opted for the Georgia Bulldogs. Besides the Shrine Bowl, he’ll also play in the Army All-American Bowl after the season is over.
“People have known about him across the country since eighth grade because of his arm,” said Stackley.
Standing 6-foot-3, and weighing around 200 pounds, Park is as much a threat with his legs as he his with his right arm cannon. Nation Ford coach Michael Allen caught an eye-full of Park when Stratford thumped the Falcons in the first round of the playoffs several weeks ago. Park completed 15 of 24 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns that night, and also ran for 85 yards, many of those coming on third-and-longs when Nation Ford thought its defense was about to get off the field.
“We couldn’t get him on the ground, get him corralled,” Allen said Wednesday. “He’d find a way to make it happen with his feet on third and long situations. He’s a tremendous athlete; he presents a lot of problems.”
Herron said that Park has the same ability to escape dangerous situations and prolong plays as some of the Stallions’ best quarterbacks, like Stephon Gilmore and Devin Pearson.
“He causes problems when he scrambles around,” said South Pointe’s coach. “The main thing is we’ve got to contain and stay on receivers.”
Stackley said that Park’s mobility has emerged due to lapses on the offensive line.
“A lot of guys don’t have those tools because they’ve been able to sit back in the pocket, what I call ‘sit in the rocking chair and throw the ball.’ We’d all love to have that but he’s been forced to run.”
Park was on his game last week too, helping the Knights avenge an earlier loss to South Florence with over 300 yards of total offense, including another 90 on the ground.
“You’ve got to stop him,” said Allen. “That’s the one you’ve got to stop. And if you can somehow get him to make some bad decisions throwing the ball then you’ve got a chance.”
A number of Park’s long-ball heaves have landed in the laps of favorite targets Thad Thompson and Tyree Scroggins. Thompson, who caught two touchdown passes last week, including an 80-yarder, has 50 catches on the season for 1,183 yards, an average of nearly 24 yards per catch, while Scroggins is averaging around 18 yards per catch. There is more to the Knights than just the quarterback.
“On paper we don’t have a lot of D-I prospects,” said Stackley, “but our group is kind of a gritty, learn to play the game-type of group. They’re not gonna worry you with their size, speed, athleticism, but collectively they have a great attitude and play to the whistle.”
Stratford is 2-5 all-time in state semifinals; Stackley and the Knights won a Big 16 state title in 1999. Friday’s game is their first state semifinals since 2006, and Park will be up for the big stage.
“He’s played for our school when we’ve been a little down,” said Stratford’s 29-year coach. “He’s been successful for us as a quarterback and a leader, and kind of helped get the program back to where it should be.”
Getting back to the state championship, where Stratford really want to be, will be difficult, even with a home game. Before last week’s 30-27 win over Goose Creek, South Pointe had held its previous four opponents to a combined 10 points, with three shutouts, part of a seven-game winning streak.
“I think their front four, and I’m not discrediting their linebackers and secondary, but their front four, as a collective unit, is probably the best we’ve played against all year,” said Stackley.
Allen thinks the Stallions have the horses to slow down Park and the Knights. He saw South Pointe’s defensive might firsthand when the Stallions dropped Nation Ford 66-3 earlier this season.
“They have some weapons to corral this guy and get him on the ground,” Allen said about South Pointe’s defensive unit. “They’ve simply got them.”
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T