If Jamie Thompson had a choice, defending state 2A champion Shelby wouldn’t be his pick for the opponent in his Polk County coaching debut.

But not because he doesn’t welcome the challenge of matching up with one of the state’s elite 2A programs.

“It’s one of those things where you know you’re going to find out how good you are early,” Thompson said. “The one thing I don’t like about it is that Shelby is going to be small 2A (in the postseason, as is Polk County), and it’s tough to beat any team twice in a season. But we’re going over there planning on executing our game plan and coming out with a W.”

Thompson’s tenure as the sixth head football coach in Polk County history will begin with the 7:30 p.m. kickoff. Veteran Polk County broadcasters Ray Henderson and Wayne Auman will offer an audio Webcast of the game that will be available here.

Shelby returns nine starters from last season’s title-winning squad, beginning with quarterback R.J. George, who threw for more than 3,200 yards with 32 touchdowns last season. A preseason NCPreps.com all-state selection and the preseason South Mountain Athletic Conference player of the year, George will have another preseason all-state pick, wide receiver Antwan Wright, as his main target. Chad Reid is expected to be the featured running back.

“They’re clicking much better offensively than they were at this time last year,” said Thompson of Shelby. “They are all new up front and kind of like us in that matter.

“The quarterback is elusive, buys time with his feet while he looks downfield to make a play. He can beat you with his arm and his legs.”

Defensively, Shelby is led by preseason all-state pick Garrion Addison (114 tackles, 28 of those for a loss in 2013) at inside linebacker. Defensive back Demarrio Houston had three interceptions in the state championship game, while Clay Huskey returns to anchor the Shelby defensive front.

“We’ve got to execute on both sides of the ball,” Thompson said. “I told the players that we have to play with a high-level football IQ. We have to cut down on mistakes. We can’t let little things snowball on us, we have to limit the big plays defensively and control the ball offensively.”

Injured in the first scrimmage against Chase, senior fullback/linebacker Jordan Smith is expected to play. He’ll be one of the Polk County returnees from the squad that lost to Shelby 38-21, a game in which Polk County trailed just 24-21 in the fourth quarter.

“Last year we played 42 minutes,” Thompson said. “This year, we want to play the whole 48.”

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