Berkmar’s Mason Brown (14) runs the ball up field during the game against Shiloh earlier this season. (Photo: Craig Cappy)
Just two weeks ago, the Berkmar football program was feeling pretty good.
The Patriots were off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 2007 and had a convincing win in their Region 8-AAAAAA opener.
Then quarterback JaQuan Morris broke his ankle in the second quarter against Central Gwinnett and the Patriots lost 15-12.
Berkmar (3-1, 1-1 region) had a bye last week to help bring new quarterback Jadarrius Warner up to speed.
“The show is not going to stop,” Berkmar head coach Jonathan Sanks said. “We’re going to miss JaQuan, but we’re going to keep rolling. Everyone has to step up.”
Morris threw for 1,970 yards last season with 11 touchdowns. The senior was on pace to have another big year, throwing for 497 yards and two touchdowns through three games.
The Patriots will now rely on Warner, who was injured prior to the Central game and has not taken a varsity snap, in Friday's game with South Gwinnett.
“I feel like we are better,” Sanks said. “That sounds strange with JaQuan not there, but now everybody has to step up. I truly think we are a better team.”
Despite a sophomore quarterback making his first varsity start, South head coach John Small doesn’t think the Patriots will be at a disadvantage.
“They will have someone step up,” Small said. “They’ve found a way to be 3-1 and we’ve found a way to be 1-4.”
The Comets (1-4, 0-3) are riding a three-game losing streak, all region losses, that started with a double overtime loss to Dacula.
They trailed 35-0 to Central Gwinnett last week before losing 41-14. One of the few bright spots was Coray Keel’s 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Keel committed to Indiana on Monday.
“We’re a really young team, but that’s not an excuse,” Keel said. “A lot of Gwinnett teams are young. We can still win the last five games because the region is wide open.”
Keel has a point. Archer is the only school to solidify itself as a playoff contender. That leaves the rest of the region fighting for three spots. So while the Comets have gotten off to a bad start, they are certainly not out of the playoff picture. They just can’t have another night like they did last week against Central.
“I think we had 40-something missed tackles. You can’t do that and stop people,” Small said. “We got inside the 10-yard line several times and came away with no points. We have found a way to destruct at the wrong times. We have to keep battling.”
To add to the misery, quarterback Josh Shim and Malik Brown were sacked four times and threw an interception.
“We just have to keep plugging and fighting. It’s a lot of missed opportunities,” Small said.
Berkmar has lost the last six games to South and they haven’t been close, including a 61-14 defeat a year ago. The Comets have won 13 of the last 15 against the Patriots.
But this isn’t the same Berkmar team as years past. In the fourth year under Sanks, the program has gotten bigger, stronger and a lot more competitive.
“Coach Sanks and those guys have been doing a great job for the last four years,” Small said. “It doesn’t surprise me what they’ve done this year. They’ve gotten better and better each year. They’ve got those kids playing extremely hard. Defensively, it’s probably the best I’ve ever seen them. So when I turn on the film, I’m not surprised.”
The defense has been led by linebacker Jamal Wise, who has a 4.0 GPA.
“He was in on every play last week. He can flat out play football,” Sanks said.
Anthony Green and Averee Giles have also been major contributors along the defensive line.
“They’ve got a great coach,” Sanks said. “They are always athletic. They get going and they are hard to beat.”
SOUTH GWINNETT at BERKMAR
South Gwinnett Comets (8-AAAAAA)
Coach: John Small
Record: 1-4, 0-3 region
Last week: Lost to Central Gwinnett 41-14
Berkmar Patriots (8-AAAAAA)
Coach: Jonathan Sanks
Record: 3-1, 1-0 region
Last week: Had a bye
Last meeting: South Gwinnett won 61-14 last year
Directions to Berkmar High School: From I-85, go east on Pleasant Hill Road; school is on the right just before Ga. Highway 29.