The night Brock Vandagriff went head-to-head with Gunner Stockton on ESPNU

Brock Vandagriff-Gunner Stockton-Georgia recruiting
Brock Vandagriff and Gunner Stockton certainly lived up to the hype on Friday night.

Want to attack every day with the latest UGA football recruiting info? That’s what the Intel brings. This entry shares a reporter’s breakdown of the monumental matchup between 5-star Georgia QB commit Brock Vandagriff and 5-star South Carolina QB commit Gunner Stockton from Friday night. 

When I worked Friday night live TV for years in Birmingham with Mike Raita, he had a classic local sports anchor saying. Raita was big on alliteration, energy and fun. He pumped those into high school football, too. As he should.

He reserved a saying for big games. This was a different state, but Friday night’s tilt between Rabun County and Prince Avenue Christian would’ve raised his voice, too.

Monumentally. Mammoth. Matchup.  

Those words fit walking into Frank Synder Memorial Stadium in Rabun County on Friday night. The backdrop of the North Georgia mountains at sundown was even able to take our eyes off the field. Our smartphones don’t have a filter like that. It was just right.

But then so were the military and patriotic tributes on the field and uniforms. Rabun even had a lone spotlight on an Amarius Mims-sized American flag off to the left of the home bleachers.

It was a big slice of America for a not-so-distant crowd that had been starving for it. ESPNU brought its cameras to see it, too.

There was no fooling anyone about why.

Everyone came to see Georgia commit Brock Vandagriff and his team face South Carolina commit Gunner Stockton and his team. It was one of those “Instant Classic” games that network used to brand its turnaround replays after a big Saturday.

That matchup was the first of its name. With at least a few more to come.

Gunner Stockton had a strong all-around game on Friday night against Prince Avenue Christian and Brock Vandagriff. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

First round: Vandagriff’s team versus Stockon’s team

The opening act was unforgettably staged. Covid-19 rules only allow each team to send one player to midfield these days for the coin toss.

Vandagriff came from the sunset sideline. Stockton strode to the 50 from the home bleachers. The bells before a Metallica classic had been ringing for a while now over the PA.

Brock Vandagriff held himself accountable and promised that he and his Prince Avenue Christian football team would get better in the wake of that road loss at Rabun County. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Both young men are the sons of a high school football coach. They were both coaching on that field, too.

We have, to the best of my knowledge, never seen a pair of 5-star Georgia QBs facing off on the same high school field. Vandagriff is the senior. Stockton is a grade behind him.

Both were the undisputed engines of their teams.

They met up and Vandagriff towered over Stockton. Probably by about 2-3 inches. Think Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV” if we can all permit this narrative to indulge in a little 1980s/1990s nostalgia a little further.

Exit: Light. Enter: Night. Take my hand. We’re off to never never land. 

That was Stockton for most of the night. He backpedaled into an end zone for one score but didn’t draw a flag from the crew. When he rumbled for another score, he did the first full-sprint spike we might ever see. It did draw a flag. Might have dented the turf, too. That’s how many RPMs were on that ball.

Vandagriff and PAC had one last chance, but blanket coverage on his mini-magician Logan Johnson on back-to-back snaps led to a game-deciding interception.

It was Vandagriff’s third. Tallied while having to squeeze the ball into no window to the biggest little weapon in the state of Georgia. Rabun came up with another one of its picks after one of his targets lost his footing with the ball on the way.

It was a great night for football in America. The views. The 5-stars. The competition and level of play.

Rabun’s student section likely needed an R-rating. They kept verbally dismantling any Prince Avenue player within earshot. Johnson was a key target. But he kept giving it back as good as he was getting it. He even blew kisses after every score.

When Rabun County scored, there was a crescendo of fireworks that boomed over the visitor bleachers. What was this? GHSA Class 7A? The SEC?

After fretting if we’d get any football at all, everything we were treated to Friday night felt like we stuffed ourselves. Gorged even. It allowed many in attendance, even those few in masks, to forget about that virus for about three hours on a Friday night.

Check out the highlight reel from Friday night’s big game below. 

Vandagriff vs. Stockton: The monumental matchup

We will likely see this matchup in the SEC East as early as 2022 or 2023. I’ll bet on 2023.

The future Gamecock’s team beat the future Georgia guy’s team. What does that mean? Does that mean South Carolina is getting the better quarterback from the state of Georgia?

In a word, no. It means Rabun County had a better team. The conclusion of the night’s rich drama left a well-informed observer what he was expecting to see. That was the No. 1 team in Georgia’s Class 2A beating the No. 3 team in Class 1A on their home field.

The Wildcats had more size upfront. They probably had 6-7 future college players (at some level) on the field that night. Prince Avenue might have had about three or four. Rabun was especially bigger and stouter upfront. That’s kind of the way things should have gone down between a Class 1A and a Class 2A team.

Vandagriff did look about two or three inches taller than Stockton at that coin flip. But Gunner’s go-to target (Adriel Clark) looked about 6-foot-4 in his own right. Johnson was maybe 5 feet, 6 inches. That was who Vandagriff leaned on. He even missed him once all alone on a series where the Wolverines had to settle for the game-tying field goal.

Prince Avenue coach Greg Vandagriff (left) and Rabun County coach Jaybo Shaw share a laugh prior to their game on Friday night. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Clark caught two touchdowns. So did Johnson. If this was a street fight, the tale of the tape for the two biggest guys on each team said a lot.

Stockton threw for two touchdowns and one interception. Vandagriff had touchdown tosses of 13, 25 and 43 yards, but did pair them with three interceptions.

The legs on the Rabun County star were the difference in the game. Stockton had three rushing touchdowns. He looked both freight train and sports car chugging along for 189 yards.

But it was that show stopper arm paired with those hard-charging legs that won the night. Stockton has been timed at a laser 4.71 on the grass in the 40.

But that was before he filled out heading into his junior year. He looked thick up top and also in his thighs and legs. Prince Avenue coach Greg Vandagriff, the father of Brock, looked to Stockon’s work on the ground as a deciding factor.

He said that Stockton reminded him of Justin Fields at Harrison. The way he would move the pile the way he lowered his shoulder and made tacklers in the box look like bowling pins.

“I’m really shocked how many times they ran Gunner,” Greg Vandagriff said. “That’s one of the reasons why I became an offensive coordinator. I didn’t want somebody to run my son 22 times.”

The Vandagriff stat line: 17 for 28 for 187 yards, 3 TDs, 3 INTs; 11 carries for 57 yards

The Stockton stat line: 19 for 30 for 187 yards; 30 carries for 189 yards and three scores

Opponent scouting on UGA-bound Brock Vandagriff

Rabun County coach Jaybo Shaw was a 3-star prospect in his own right years ago. His younger brother, Connor, also starred for the Gamecocks in college.

He knows about big-time quarterbacks. Especially after coaching Gunner the last two seasons. Shaw was asked to share what he thought about Vandagriff. Both before and after the game.

“We knew Brock wouldn’t go down without swinging his best punches,” Shaw said.

Yet it wasn’t his arm or his legs which scared the Rabun County team the most.

“The number one thought by far is competitive nature,” Shaw said. “When he decided to go in the QB run he can get north in a hurry. Very explosive runner as a QB.”

He said that Vandagriff has one of the quickest releases he has ever seen. His hands are especially quick getting to and firing out that ball.

“The thing that scares you the most is he can make you pay at any given moment,” Shaw said. “Whether that is a broken play, QB run or a simple pass concept. You better be on high alert every snap against that guy.”

Blitzes were infrequent. Rob Stockton, the defensive coordinator at Rabun, knew he had to pick his spots. That’s a high-risk call. Especially because Vanadgriff could escape and extend and beat a blitz with his legs.

Brock Vanadgriff threw for three touchdowns but also three interceptions on ESPNU on Friday night at Rabun County (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Brock Vandagriff breaks down his play against Rabun County

Quarterbacks are different. They get too much of the credit and too much blame in a matchup like this one. But that’s part of being a 5-star. Especially with Stockton going off.

He wanted some deeper study with the film on Sunday morning and afternoon, but there was one big concept on his mind.

“I personally did not play well yesterday,” Vandagriff said. “I am not pleased with how my individual performance was, but we had guys step up around us and keep us in it.”

That accountability will help him as he advances. The next time he faces Stockon, he should have the team that looks like it plays in a higher classification.

What was his mindset down 31-7? What was it with the score locked at 31?

“My mindset was the same throughout the whole game,” Brock Vandagriff said. “I don’t get caught up in the emotion of the game. I try to stay calm and because I know my teammates are watching me. I knew we had to score and we did just that.”

Brock Vandagriff was one of two 5-star QBs on the field Friday night at Rabun County. His Wolverines fell down 31-7 only to fall late by a 38-31 margin. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

This game was scheduled to help augment a championship for both teams. No team needs to go 10-0 in the regular season without getting tested.

Exposure against good teams will allow staff and its roster to fortify those areas for a long title run. It matters little to learn those things in November and December.

Get exposed in the regular season.

Not the second season.

Prince Avenue Christian thinks that way. It was good to learn those things and then bounce back off the mat on the road, too.

“W will definitely improve from this game a lot,” Brock Vandagriff said. “We learned a lot about our O-line and things they need to work on as well. Their stadium was rocking and we also learned that we have to learn the signals and not just rely on me calling them out for everyone. It was a great game for both sides and I believe both teams will make a deep run in the playoffs if not a state championship or title.”

He took a look at those three interceptions. Without making any excuses. He didn’t mention a wide receiver slip or that very contested late coverage on Johnson. It looked like they wanted to get their hands on him as much as possible without drawing a flag.

“Their fans were loud but that isn’t what caused the three interceptions,” Brock Vandagriff said. “I have to be more disciplined in the pocket and take what they give me. Not force anything.”

Georgia fans have no need to worry. The future of the quarterback position in Athens, if he wins the job sooner or later, will sit well across his well-defined shoulders.

Regarding young Gunner Stockton

South Carolina is getting a very good one. It was interesting how easily Gamecock culture is assimilating itself into Rabun County football already.  Frank Snyder Memorial Stadium had “Sandstorm” rocking the PA speakers during pregame.

It wasn’t a new thing. When Shaw played at South Carolina, that tune started getting pregame play at Rabun County, too. But it fits even more there.

Longtime Rabun County resident George Bobo was there. That would be the father of current South Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. The wise former Georgia high school coach probably did not show Gunner the way to throw his first spiral. His father Rob, was also a Hall of Fame safety at Georgia Southern, too.

Gunner Stockon now has a career record of 90-3 as a starting QB that dates back to his Pop Warner days. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

But George Bobo taught Gunner the best way to throw it. The release is uncanny.

He whips that ball out there like few prep players these eyes have seen do in the last three to four years.

It reminds one of the time-tested Bum Phillips line about Warren Moon from back in the day: “He can throw it through a car wash and the ball not get wet.”

Class of 2022 OT prospect Drew Bobo was there, too. That would be Mike’s son and George’s grandson. The 6-foot-5 prospect already holds three Power 5 offers from Maryland, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Stockon’s game reminds me of about three-parts Bake Mayfield and one-part Tim Tebow. There’s a fullback mentality to the way he is built and how he plows through defenders before breaking free with the speed to go the distance, too.

That said, he is 100 percent football player. He couldn’t move his team in the third quarter, but it had more to do with his starting wideouts missing snaps and PAC firing back than anything else.

Stockton was still wearing his football pads at least an hour after the game on Friday night. He wanted to be sure to soak up all of this one he possibly could. That’s a Gamer folks.

There seems to be both an aw-shucks element and a boiling cauldron of confidence to his game, too. This was a stiff test against Vandagriff and the Wolverines.

It netted a statement victory.

“Absolutely,” he said in the video below. “Just putting ol’ Rabun County on the map. Little ol’ Rabun County. But it is just pretty cool for our community.”

We will all want to be there for Round 2 on Saturdays, too.


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