The most anticipated high school football game in the area in the past three years was likely the 2011 contest between Dalton and Southeast Whitfield. But that was anticipated more for what was going on off the field after Dalton was forced to forfeit games because of playing an ineligible player who just happened to have played at Southeast the previous three years.
Tonight, the excitement is for a different reason as Dalton travels up the hilly and winding Reed Road to visit its county brethren.
This game is all about what is going to happen on the field.
There is a chill in the evenings, a (lopsided) rivalry game to discuss, fans to perturb and Christian Heritage football coach Preston Poag to make fun of, so let’s get down to the meat of the matter.
You, gentle reader, are so extremely lucky to have me here to guide you through the tangled shrubbery that is the local high school football season. Like a person with a scythe in the middle of a corn maze, I take you right through with me on this ride.
Last week was pure perfection, which is what I always expect of my picks. Your Guru of Gridiron Guessing was 6-0 to push my season record to 26-8. Like the better football teams, the Prep Pigskin Prognosticator is bringing his “A” game when it matters most.
Bring it on.
• Game of the Week — Dalton at Northwest Whitfield: Get ready, Bruins fans. Warm your throat up to start the “Chr-is! Whit-field!” chants.
Hold up signs. Boo me as soon as you see me coming through the pass gate near the fieldhouse.
From Dublin to Athens, Savannah to Marietta I have covered a lot of these “so-called” rivalry games. See, in order for something to be a rivalry, one of the teams should win more than three times in two decades. When a team leads a series 27-5, it is hardly a rivalry.
If Northwest wins tonight, it would still be three touchdowns behind if the series record was a single-game score.
Here’s what I remember from my high school football coverage history: No matter how good West Laurens was supposed to be, it couldn’t beat Dublin. Cedar Shoals struggles to take down Clarke Central. Benedictine has owned Savannah the past two decades in a rivalry that dates back to 1908.
So yes, I know something about rivalry games.
Northwest, you can’t beat Dalton tonight because no matter how perfect your record is (against inferior competition), no matter how many turnovers you have gotten, no matter how many touchdowns you have thrown before now, Dalton has some sort of mental hold over you.
“C’mon, Whitfield,” you’re saying to me, “the Bruins are undefeated!”
So what? So is Dalton State College’s football team. The question is, how good is Northwest?
No one really knows. Pickens is the only team on its schedule that has a winning record, and the Dragons had six turnovers in that 25-13 Northwest win. Six turnovers and you only score 25 points? If you are that good, shouldn’t that have been a real blowout?
And it isn’t just me who doesn’t give the Bruins the respect that they feel like their 5-0 record deserves. In a statewide coaches poll that includes a coach from each region in Class 4A, not a single coach is putting the Bruins in their top 15. Teams with three losses are getting more respect than Northwest. The computer-driven Maxwell power rankings put the Bruins’ strength of schedule at 68th out of 77 Class 4A teams.
You have a lot to prove, Bruins — not just to me, but to the doubters all across the state.
But how good is Dalton, especially when matched up with Northwest’s strengths? Dalton’s two losses came against spread offenses that live on big plays. Sound familiar?
Dalton’s offense has struggled when facing teams that have speed enough to contain the Catamounts’ running game. Sound familiar?
Dalton’s passing game has been a little suspect this season, and Northwest has perhaps the best secondary in this entire quarter of the state.
I’m not saying that either team is going to run away with this one, but the “Dalton” factor in the head of the Northwest players gives the edge to the visitors. Again.
Whit’s Pick: Dalton 24, Northwest 22
• Darlington at Christian Heritage: I am not sure I can pick a team to win when it is coached by a man who is color blind.
Poag is a former pitcher and a quarterback, which means he has to have someone else tell him what to do. He isn’t very good at math, and apparently the man would have trouble picking out the right crayon, too.
I walked on to Christian Heritage’s practice field Monday afternoon in what was clearly a blue shirt for an interview. After about 30 seconds of talking, Poag looked at me through his 1980s “Top Gun” sunglasses and said, “Did you really wear a purple shirt (the color of this week’s foe, Darlington) to my practice field?”
Time for a trip to the eye doctor.
But at least the Lions have been winning games in spite of their leadership. However, tonight Christian Heritage gets to prove it belongs with the big boys. The Lions are No. 6 in the latest Georgia High School Association Class A private school power ratings, and a win over Darlington would go a LONG way toward securing a berth in the state playoffs and even get them close to hosting in the postseason.
For a team in its second season in the GHSA, Christian Heritage is making tremendous strides. But have the Lions grown up enough to win the big game?
Darlington certainly knows how to — and if anyone can slow down the Christian Heritage offense, it is the Tigers.
Whit’s Pick: Darlington 21, Christian Heritage 19
• Southeast Whitfield at Ridgeland: Southeast coach Sean Gray said after last week’s win over LaFayette — in which the Raiders rallied from a 14-3 deficit to prevail 31-17 — that his team didn’t know how to handle being picked to win.
I pick you to win, Raiders, and I get into your head? Observe the awesome powers of the Guru!
You better get used to it. Ridgeland is a shell of its former self, and the Panthers’ injuries last week against Dalton just added and added to the pile.
This might be the first time I have ever picked Southeast to win four times in one season.
But I have been right all year long.
Whit’s Pick: Southeast Whitfield 24, Ridgeland 13
• Murray County at Model: Murray County can win another game this year.
It just won’t be tonight.
Whit’s Pick: Model 42, Murray County 8
Chris Whitfield is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen. Sorry folks, but he just doesn’t like the color orange. You can write to “The Guru of Gridiron Guessing” at firstname.lastname@example.org.