Game: Marietta (2-6, 1-2) at North Cobb (7-1, 3-0), 7:30 p.m.
Last year: Marietta 63, North Cobb 35
All-time series: Tied 18-18
Prediction: North Cobb 42, Marietta 31
A case can be made that one of North Cobb’s best defensive players does not play defense.
That player is kicker Ben Moran. Thanks largely to his efforts, the Warriors are having their best season since 2012 when they made a trip to the Class AAAAAA final four.
It’s obviously that Moran does not hit, tackle, get sacks, cause or recover fumble or make interceptions. He has his own way of rattling opposing offenses.
That is by kicking the ball out of the end zone. Coach Shane Queen said 98 percent of his kickoffs denies teams a chance to return kicks. In doing so, he is forcing teams to drive the entire 80 yards.
Moran also averages 35.2 yards a punt on 25 attempts with his longest being 54 yards.
“From a defensive coordinator standpoints, offenses having to drive 80 yards is huge,” Queen said. “That shows you how important (kickoffs) is. Keeping the best players from returning kicks is a huge advantage from a defensive perspective.”
With the Region 3AAAAAAA title on the line, North Cobb is hosting Marietta.
A victory will deliver the Warriors their first region title since 2013.
While the Blue Devils are in transition this season, they can still put up points, which means the Warriors are relying on Moran to pin them deep.
North Cobb will also continue to depend on another key player that actually does play defense.
Senior outside linebacker Montrel Jenkins is a three-year starter who is having his best season for the Warriors. He already has 59 tackles and six interceptions with four being returned for touchdowns.
Jenkins, who is getting looks from Duke, Florida State, Michigan State and Mississippi State, had two interception returns for touchdowns in North Cobb’s season opener against Sprayberry and added two more interceptions, including another touchdown, last week in the Warriors’ win over Hillgrove.
“He’s a cerebral player,” Queen said of Jenkins. “He’s always in the right place at the right time. He’s physical enough to come in the box and line up on the tight end. He helps against the run and covers slot receivers. He has a great combination of athleticism, speed and physicality against the run.”
Marietta is looking to recover from back-to-back region losses to Hillgrove and Harrison.
In Marietta’s 51-28 loss to Harrison, quarterback Tyler Hughes threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns. Daniel Martin had 126 of those yards and a touchdown.