After a two-year hiatus, the football rivalry between Southeast Whitfield and Northwest Whitfield will resume tonight with playoff implications for both teams.
Both teams are still in contention for one of the all-important top three spots in Sub-region 7B-4A, which at the end of the league schedule will guarantee the chance to play for the state playoffs in the final week of the regular season, when 7B-4A teams host 7A-4A teams in crossover matchups.
“If you win this game, it doesn’t matter what happens the next week,” Northwest coach Josh Robinson said. “It is a big deal and it shouldn’t be hard for either team to get up for this one.”
In addition to that clash at Bruin Stadium in Tunnel Hill, Christian Heritage is at Southwest Atlanta Christian, Coahulla Creek travels to Ringgold, Dalton welcomes Heritage-Catoosa, Murray County hosts Dade County and North Murray takes on visiting Lakeview-Fort Ogle-thorpe.
All kickoffs are at 7:30 p.m.
A win tonight would put Southeast (2-5, 2-1 Sub-region 7B-4A) in position to capture the No. 2 seed in the sub-region with a win next week over Dalton. The Raiders opened this season, their first under coach Sean Gray, with five straight losses — but they have won two of their past three games.
“We can see the progress every week, and the wins have finally come,” Gray said. “I am tickled with where we are, and it is exciting to be in a game with these implications. It is a great opportunity for us.”
Northwest (4-3, 1-2) is having to deal with back-to-back losses to Dalton and Ridgeland, the latter of which can sew up the sub-region title with a win tonight against visiting LaFayette. But the Bruins can still hope to salvage the No. 3 seed with the win, and Robinson is happy to be playing a rival with so much on the line.
“It is a whole lot better than going into a game like this that you need to win and you have to travel two hours and the kids are asking, ‘Who are we playing?’” said Robinson, whose team played in a region that stretched to metro Atlanta the past two seasons. “This is the way it is supposed to be, playing your rival with a lot on the line.”
Northwest has won 15 straight games in the rivalry, dating back to Southeast’s last win over the Bruins in 1992.
“We’ve told our kids all week that we have to be physical and match their intensity,” Gray said. “This is a big game, and we have to rise up to the challenge.”
The teams have very similar offenses. David Crane, the head coach at Southeast the past four seasons, is now an assistant at Northwest, and Gray switched to the spread offense when he was the coach at Valley Point Middle, which fed into Crane’s system at Southeast.
“Both defenses should know what is coming,” Gray said. “(Northwest) is going to be similar to what we do on offense, and Heritage (last week’s opponent) was a spread team. So, we should be used to it by now, but it is hard to simulate their receivers.”
Northwest quarterback Silas Ledford has thrown for more than 1,500 yards in seven games with 15 touchdowns. O’Shea Hill and A.J. Orozco have been his main targets, with the pair combining for 58 receptions for 752 yards and eight touchdowns. However, the Bruins have averaged fewer than 100 yards on the ground per game.
Southeast’s offense has been more balanced. Junior quarterback Blake Foster, a first-year starter at that position, has accounted for 1,043 yards of total offense with five touchdowns rushing and four through the air. Classmate Rhett Harper has been his favorite target, catching nearly half of Foster’s passes for 452 yards and all four touchdowns.
The Raiders have also received a boost offensively from running back Easton Ridley, who has rushed for more than 250 yards and five touchdowns in his past three games.
“Rhett Harper, Blake Foster, Easton Ridley, (defensive linemen) Luis Fraire, Jayro Perez and a lot of other names — they have some great athletes over there,” Robinson said. “The work is going to be cut out for us. They will be excited to play us, and I think our kids will be excited to be playing them again, and I know the fans will be excited to be on opposite sides of the field again.”
Christian Heritage (4-3, 1-2) at SW Atl. Christian (0-7, 0-3)
Christian Heritage can’t worry about Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy’s poor showing on the football field this season.
The Warriors, who host the Lions tonight at Kiwanis Stadium in Forest Park, have lost 13 straight games — a tally that includes two forfeits to open the season when reconditioned helmets and shoulder pads weren’t available.
In the five-year history of football at SACA, a school with less than 100 students known more for three basketball titles and having NBA great Dwight Howard as its most famous alumnus, the Warriors have lost 43 of 47 games. In their five on-field games this season, SACA has lost by an average score of 57-3.
Lions coach Preston Poag has one simple objective in tonight’s Sub-region 6A-A game.
“We have to take care of business,” he said. “Our players can’t think this is going to be easy and wind up in a dogfight.”
Lions junior fullback/linebacker Austin Lowe said Poag shouldn’t fret about the Lions taking SACA lightly.
“We come out every week, or I do, wanting to bury the opponent with no mercy,” Lowe said. “I think that’s what championship teams do — no pity on anyone. After the game you can feel sorry for how bad you beat them.”
The two teams are at opposite ends of the Class A football spectrum. Christian Heritage has an impressive football facility with a new artificial grass playing surface.
SACA coach Adrian Chism, a former Marine who took over the program in late July after serving as an assistant coach the previous four years, battles just to field a team.
“It’s a challenge,” he said. “It’s easy to be on the sideline and see 60 or 70 players there with you. Try looking around and seeing just two other guys standing there. I’ve got 13 players and we have two special-needs students. But my guys will fight each day, each Friday night.”
Coahulla Creek (2-5, 1-3) at Ringgold (4-3, 2-2)
Two of Coahulla Creek’s final three regular-season games in its first varsity season will be at home, with the Colts hosting North Murray and Adairsville the next two weeks. But tonight, they have a chance to end Ringgold’s opportunity for postseason play with a win on the road.
Still, Colts coach Jared Hamlin doesn’t look too much into the notion of adding extra incentive to his team with talk of playing the spoiler role.
“I don’t look at that as being motivation,” he said. “It’s about us getting a win to get us a win, and that’s the motivation. We say, ‘Put yourself in that situation to get yourself a win’, all of us, as players and as coaches ... to say ‘Let’s get us another win for this first-year program.’ We’ll continue to build on that.”
Despite last week’s 43-14 loss to LFO — the third straight since opening Region 5-3A play with a victory at Sonoraville on Sept. 21 — Hamlin was encouraged.
“I was proud of their effort and their intensity,” Hamlin said. “I think all night we gave great effort. We had five or six mental mistakes that cost us. We were right in the football game. If we continue to play with that same tempo and continue to correct some of these mental areas, we’re going to be OK.”
Hamlin looks for his young squad to build on a passing game that had success against LFO’s defense last week, with quarterback Blaine Williams, wide receivers Levi Wilson and Erick Dominguez and tight end Jordan Tant leading that attack.
“We went into the game knowing that we thought we could get some things in the passing game,” Hamlin said. “We were able to find some things that worked well. The receivers did a good job and made some nice catches. That was the best our offensive line had played all year long. Blaine threw the ball well.
“It was just something that was there and we tried to take advantage of it. So, I was proud of that.”
Tigers coach Robert Akins, in his sixth season, knows it’s a week-by-week challenge for his team continue stay alive and gain a postseason berth. They beat North Murray 35-15 last week in what was close to a must-win game.
“Every week with us, because we dug ourselves a hole with losing (early), we’ve got to win,” Akins said. “Every week is a playoff game for us. We have to be sure we have our kids focused on that, knowing that every game is do or die.”
Heritage (0-7, 0-3) at Dalton (4-3, 2-1)
Homecoming is always a big event for Dalton High football, and tonight’s Sub-region 7B-4A matchup at Harmon Field is no exception.
The host Catamounts are a win away from guaranteeing they’ll be in competition for a spot in the state playoffs during the region crossover matchups in the final week of the regular season, and they’ll try to keep their momentum moving forward with a third straight victory after beating Northwest 24-19 and topping LaFayette 43-0.
“We just need to take care of business,” Cats coach Matt Land said. “The rest will take care of itself.”
Heritage lost its own homecoming last week, falling 30-13 to Southeast. Despite the visitors’ record, Land insisted, “They’re a team that presents some problems because of the many formations that they run. Everybody makes their best plays against Dalton.”
Heritage, a fifth-year program, lost 31 players from the school’s first senior class last season, when they went 7-3 for the best record in school history. One of those wins was originally a loss to Dalton but the Cats had to forfeit later when a player was ruled ineligible by the GHSA.
The Generals have been shut out three times this year and average just 6.9 points per game. Their highest single-game total came in a 47-17 loss to Ringgold in the season opener.
“Maybe two years down the road, they’ll have a lot of depth,” Land said. “They might have a lot of depth next year.”
Concerning his own offense, Land has been particularly pleased with the play of the line, which has helped sophomore Kelvis Rhodes rush for 1,022 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“You have (center) B.J. Roland, who is blocking over 95 percent for the year,” he said. “(Tackle) Jake Roberts is grading out over 90 percent. (Tackle) Juan Pacheco showed his hustle against LaFayette by making a block 30 yards down field on a touchdown. Almost everybody in the line has graded out 88 percent.”
Dade County (1-6, 1-3) at Murray County (0-7, 0-4)
Dade County got rid of the goose egg in the win column last week. Tonight, Murray County hopes to follow suit.
In a Region 7-2A game that has the visiting Wolverines thinking of climbing into the playoff race and Murray County hoping for its first win, Indians coach John Hammond is preparing for a “big bag of stuff” from the opposing offense and Dade County coach Bradley Warren is planning to face a much-improved team compared to August, despite the record.
“In the film we’ve seen, they’ve gotten better,” said Warren, who is in his fifth season leading the Wolverines. “We’re a young team, too, and we’ve noticed them improving as the season has gone on. They havent won any ballgames yet, but they know what they’re doing.”
The Wolverines beat Armuchee 20-17 last week after losing their first six games by a combined 93 points. Hammond said their offense presents a mix of looks.
“They go with the wing-T look and the next play they’ll be in the spread look,” he said. “There’s a lot of preparation needed on the defensive side of the football.”
In studying game video, Warren was impressed by the Indians’ execution of the triple option, but he knows it hasn’t been an easy run at Murray County the past few years.
“(Hammond) just looks like he’s trying to build with a divided system with North Murray,” Warren said.
One thing the Indians are doing is “fighting the injury bug,” Hammond said. Last week’s 69-0 loss at Calhoun did not help, where the newly injured included senior Miguel Barajas. The senior — who punts, kicks and plays on both offense and defense — hurt his hip and didn’t practice Monday. Hammond wasn’t sure whether he would be back in time for tonight’s game.
LFO (5-2, 2-2) at North Murray (4-3, 1-3)
North Murray coach David Gann summed it up. Winning the final three games of the regular season won’t get the Mountaineers into the playoffs.
They need a little bit of help.
But who wins other Region 5-3A games is not something the Mountaineers can control. They can control halting a two-game skid and at least keeping their postseason dreams alive with a win against the Warriors tonight.
“That’s what it comes down to now,” Gann said. “We’ve got to get a little bit of help. We’ve got to take care of ourselves.”
With last week’s loss at Ringgold, North Murray is one game behind that school and LFO, who are tied for fourth place. Ringgold holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over North Murray but finishes the season against Coahulla Creek, Adairsville and Cartersville, with the latter two among the upper half of the region standings. A win against LFO puts North Murray in a tie with the Warriors, and the Mountaineers would own the head-to-head tiebreaker.
A loss all but eliminates North Murray from contention, and the defense could be the driving force in avoiding that possibility.
North Murray’s defense has allowed 105 points in the past two games, including 70 to Adairsville, and must handle LFO running back Pooh Harden, who had a touchdown run and a touchdown catch last week at Coahulla Creek. Behind a large line, he and fellow back Jackson Wallin could be the main factors.
“I’d say the strength though is just the size,” Gann said. “They look like a college football team in appearance.”
On offense, Gann and the Mountaineers have a strategy to try and hit the second level.
“We’re going to try to run outside and run the option,” he said. “The stuff we run right at them we’re going to do quick hitters and hope our smaller athletic guys can get by them before they get out of a stance.”
— Compiled by The Daily Citizen sports writers Devin Golden and Chris Whitfield and correspondents Larry Fleming, Dave Gordon and Doug Hawley.
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