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September 29, 2010

Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

It was only Tuesday, but Kingsland (Ga.) Camden County coach Jeff Herron already was in game-day mode.

Or, perhaps, let's call it big-game mode - when you start to set the mood for a tough challenge, like the one his team will face when it travels to take on Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas Friday night.

"We get to see if our kids are as good as their 87 college prospects," he said. "I may have to talk a few kids into getting on the bus."

Don't believe him. His team, ranked No. 5 in the RivalsHigh Top 100, will be ready. So will No. 6 St. Thomas Aquinas.

Both teams figure to challenge for state titles at the end of the year - they always do - but when they meet in the nationally-televised game, it will be a chance to see where they stand nationally.

"We get to see where we are at as a program," Aquinas head coach George Smith said. "You work all off-season to be in a position to test yourself against the best competition and we have that chance against Camden Country."

Herron, his tongue no longer in cheek, echoed the sentiment.

"We are trying to keep it business as usual," he said. "It is an extremely exciting challenge and opportunity."

It is also a matchup of two teams that probably share only one thing in common - success.

Camden County is a rural program not traditionally littered with Division I college-bound football players. Instead, it relies heavily on the process of football - learning the game, executing what is practiced, being fundamental in your success. Then repeat.

This process has produced back-to-back Georgia Class AAAAA titles and consistent rankings inside the RivalsHigh 100 Top 10.

St. Thomas Aquinas, on the other hand, is a top-flight private school program. The Raiders won the RivalsHigh 100 National Championship in 2008 and was the 2009 preseason No. 1 team. Success is synonymous with the school. It sent nine players into college football from its 2008 team, 12 from last season's team and has no fewer than seven seniors on the current 2010 team who will sign their names on Signing Day.

Interestingly enough, the talent of the teams isn't on the mind of either coach.

"We play teams with more talent on paper than us all the time," Herron said. "What worries me is that their coaching staff is very good. They are very experienced and they will know how to stop our offense. I am sure they know how it works and we have to be ready to execute."

Smith's experience, as well as the experience of all his staff, will need to translate to the play on the field in order to stop the Wildcats' quick-hitting Wing-T offense.

"I am concerned about stopping it," he said. "We can not duplicate it in just a week of practice. We don't see that style of football down here. Our kids are not used to seeing it or stopping it."

But while both coaches were complimentary of the other's programs, there is a certain confidence that each staff feels heading into this game.

"Nothing is old hat for us," Smith said. "We have played on television and we have played big games, but each is different and we are excited to prepare for it."

Herron agrees, and takes it one step further.

"Having done this stuff before makes it easier on us. And them too," he said. "We have been on TV and in front of hostile crowds so the nerves shouldn't be there as much. Both teams should be ready to go."

The two teams have frequented out-of-state competition in their respective escalations as national powers.

Camden County has played and hosted Hoover (Ala.) High and Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast. Earlier this month, it hosted and beat current No. 22 Miami (Fla.) Central, 45-42.

Aquinas has played Dallas (Texas) Skyline, Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes, and Cincinnati (Ohio) Elder in the last three years.

It is the experience against one team in particular that Camden County can look to for guidance.

"When we played Miami Central, they had more talent than any team we will see," Herron said. "They were high-risk, high-reward on offense so we got used to the talent and explosiveness. Aquinas has that explosiveness about them too, but they are also very disciplined and can run the ball right at us and take the clock onto their side."

Controlling the clock is usually the calling card of Camden.

However, one other external force could play a factor in the game.

A tropical depression is headed toward Florida and could forecast plenty of rain - and an extra dose of handoffs.

"We have a turf field," Smith said. "So the conditions shouldn't play too much of a role. It could hurt the pass game a little but we expect to be playing a tough game and not a track meet."

Those expectations, and even the rain, are music to the ears of the Wildcats.

"We can not control any of that. We are just going to prepare for this game like anything else," Herron said. "Like a state championship game. Heck, we have made longer trips to Atlanta than this for a state title game. So we are used to that as well."

So figure Camden County will be ready to play - provided all of its players get on the bus.

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National GOTW
No. 5 Camden Co. vs. No. 6 Aquinas
DB Marcus Roberson (6-1/170, Sr.)
OL Bobby Hart (6-4/283, Sr.)
QB Jake Rudock (6-3/190, Sr.)
WR Rashad Greene (6-0/175, Sr.)
K Matt Ehasz (5-11/155, Sr.)
QB Joel Ruiz (6-4/197, Sr.)
WHEN: Friday 10/1, 5 p.m.
LAST MEETING: First ever meeting
STANDINGS: Camden County (4-0), No. 1 in Georgia
St. Thomas Aquinas (3-0), No. 1 in Florida

CAMDEN COUNTY WINS IF: It can limit the big plays for St. Thomas Aquinas. Camden is going to need to play this game in front of them which may be a bit different than the attack-mode the team is usually in. Aquinas has the speed in all areas of the game to break a big play. If the Raiders are able to make a big play on special teams or defense - like it did in last season's televised game against Byrnes - that could be the tipping point. Fundamentals and sure tackling are paramount for Camden County.

ST. THOMAS AQUINAS WINS IF: The defense can hold its assignments. This is generally always the case against Camden County. Miami Central was not able to figure out the Wing-T offense in its game with Camden and no team in Georgia has been able to solve it in the last two years. If the Raiders secondary - including cornerback Marcus Roberson - can get involved in stopping the run, it will go a long way towards the victory.

PREDICTION: The two teams are near polar opposites. If one team can get on tilt, it could be a long night for the other. If it is the balanced game that everyone expects, it should be an instant classic high school football game. If the weather and rain plays a factor in the game, look for that to tip the scales towards Camden County, which already wants to run the ball nearly exclusively. If the ball is able to stay dry, the Raiders wide receivers could have plenty of open space to run in. Both teams are very good in special teams as well and that could play a hand somewhere in the outcome. Everything about this game says take Aquinas, except our guts. Aquinas is on a mission to avenge last season and it gets it done at home.
- Aquinas 25, Camden County 20

Game of the Week Predictions: 3-3 (10-5 in '09)

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