If area high school football teams were as good at winning games as I am at picking them, the prospects of the stadium lights staying on another couple of weeks would certainly be a lot brighter.
As it is, though, we come to the final week of the regular season with none of our area teams guaranteed a spot in the state playoffs, which begin next Friday. Only two teams — Dalton and Northwest Whitfield — are playing true “win-and-you-are-in” games tonight. Christian Heritage can help its cause for making the state playoffs with a win tonight, but there is no guarantee since the team at MIT has to meet over the weekend and figure out who exactly will fill the bracket in this new world of separate but equal in the split between the GHSA’s Class A private and public schools.
We will get to the Lions in a minute, but let’s concentrate on big-boy football first. Oooh, a shot at CHS, and here I am just a shill for private schools, according to some.
It is an explosive double feature this week for the final two playoff spots in Region 7-4A, and let me get on my playoff seeding soap box for a minute to gripe.
One thing I hate about sub-divided regions is the way a lot of them handle how they seed teams for the playoffs. Admittedly, there are plenty of pros and cons on both sides, but I have always been a big believer of proving things on the field, especially in the final week of the regular season.
For Region 7-4A, especially, this is a big deal. There are 11 teams in the region, so all of this could have been decided on the field with a 10-game region schedule where everyone plays everyone else and we know who the top four teams in the region are.
However, the region coaches voted to sub-divide and allow just the top three teams in each side to play each other for playoff spots in the last game of the regular season. Here is the rub, though: What if your four best teams are on one side? Should the sub-region champions automatically qualify for the playoffs?
With the exception of Ridgeland, which is on an entirely different plane than the rest of the teams in the region, I could very easily see one side sweeping the other if the 1s played 4s and the 2s played 3s in the crossover games. The last two weeks have shown there isn’t a ton of separation between Dalton, Northwest and Southeast Whitfield on the B-side of Region 7-4A. In addition, Cass beat both Dalton and Northwest earlier this year, but the Colonels are a non-factor as the No. 5 team on the A-side.
Instead, now the best-case scenario for both Dalton and Northwest is a trip to metro Atlanta for the first round of the playoffs. Worst case is everyone gets a jump on basketball season.
Last week, your Peerless Prep Pigskin Prognosticator was 10-1, with those meddling kids from River Ridge continuing to play me for the villain in a Scooby Doo production. On the year, your Guru of Gridiron Guessing is 73-20.
• Game of the Week, Part 1 — Pickens at Dalton: As bad as the Catamounts have looked the past two weeks against Heritage and Southeast, one thing has held true for Matt Land’s boys — just win, baby!
Which brings us to this week and a Pickens team which has vastly superior athletes than either the Generals or the Raiders. The Dragons are playing with a new fire under first-year coach Chris Parker, who has proven in the past at Douglas County’s Chapel Hill that he can lead a team into uncharted postseason territory.
The boys from Jasper missed out on a shot at Ridgeland for the region title because of last week’s loss to River Ridge, but they still have a chance at the state playoffs as they make their first trip to Harmon in program history.
The real question is which Dalton team shows up tonight? It is the one that went stride for stride with Calhoun for three quarters or the one that totally stubbed its toe against Cass at home? Maybe it’s the team that has scored just 17 third-quarter points in competitive games?
For Pickens, the key number is 27. The Dragons have won every game in which they’ve scored 27 or more points, so that’s the challenge for the Dalton defense.
Home-field advantage comes into play.
Whit’s Pick: Dalton 21, Pickens 20
• Game of the Week, Part 2 — Gilmer at Northwest Whitfield: Gilmer held the state’s leading rusher — Cedartown’s Nick Chubb — to just 71 yards last week. That’s the good news for the pass-first Bruins.
The dynamic of this game centers around a Northwest offense that has been quick to strike most of the season and has found balance in the past three games with an effective run attack. On the other side of the field, you have a Gilmer team that can keep your offense on the sideline sitting idle for most of the night with a ground-based offense.
If Gilmer has its way, then the Bobcats will shorten the game considerably by keeping the clock moving and the first downs coming on drive after drive. For Northwest, its offense is a double-edged sword, so the Bruins have to take a page from Gilmer and work more for clock management in this one to keep their defense fresh.
This one is going to be a battle, and I could easily see overtime happening.
Whit’s Pick: Gilmer 28, Northwest 27
• King’s Ridge Christian at Christian Heritage: The Lions win the game and then have to watch other scoreboards, hoping to milk every last ounce of points out of the Class A power rankings. Even then, we’ll have to wait until next Tuesday to find out who makes the playoffs.
Whit’s Pick: Christian Heritage 35, King’s Ridge 14
• Cedartown at Southeast Whitfield: Cedartown’s Nick Chubb will go into the record books as the state’s leading rusher in the regular season with no hope of a game 11 next week. Southeast is just decimated with injuries right now, which is a shame considering the valiant effort in defeat last week.
Whit’s Pick: Cedartown 28, Southeast 21
• Gordon Central at North Murray: The Mountaineers are going for the first winning season in history, while Gordon Central is playing for the bigger picture of the state playoffs.
Whit’s Pick: Gordon Central 42, North Murray 38
• Adairsville at Coahulla Creek: Use the first varsity season as a true learning experience, Colts, and come in better prepared for next season.
Whit’s Pick: Adairsville 42, Coahulla Creek 14
• Coosa at Murray County: Despite the results on the field, this team has gotten better as the season has gone along.
Whit’s Pick: Coosa 41, Murray County 13
• Other games: Ridgeland 35, River Ridge 14; Cass 21, LaFayette 20; Heritage-Catoosa 7, Johnson-Gainesville 6; Cartersville 42, Ringgold 28.
Chris Whitfield is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.