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November 15, 2013

Chris Whitfield: How great of a year can it end up being?

By northwest Georgia high school football standards, this has been the best season since I joined The Daily Citizen’s staff in 2010.

Three teams from our coverage area — Dalton, Northwest Whitfield and Christian Heritage — are in the state playoffs, and a couple of the state’s best teams are locked in our little corner of the world as well, with Calhoun and Cartersville looking highly capable of making deep postseason runs in Classes 2A and 3A, respectively.

Like Dalton, Calhoun and Cartersville won their regions. Several other northwest Georgia programs — including Ringgold and Sonoraville, two programs from bordering counties — will also join in on the postseason festivities that begin tonight for the Georgia High School Association’s Classes 2A through 6A. (Class A’s public and private school state playoffs begin next week, with Christian Heritage in the latter bracket.)

Not a bad showing.

As for the teams in our coverage area of Murray and Whitfield counties who did not make the postseason — Coahulla Creek, Murray County, North Murray and Southeast Whitfield — they all now know the full power of the dark side of the Guru of Gridiron Guessing.

In the grand scheme of whether you make the playoffs, it is quite acceptable to beat the Guru, i.e., win a game he picks you to lose. But you better not cross him when he picks you to win. All of those teams were picked to win games by the Guru, and they all let him down.

Now you know your fate and you know why you are bouncing basketballs rather than hitting a sled. It all comes back to the Guru.

Last week was another stellar display by your Prep Pigskin Prognosticator. The lone blemish among seven picks came from Southeast, which let me down by not being able to close the deal on a .500 season. For the year, your fearless football forecaster is 54-11 and is now ready for a deep playoff run.

• Game of the Week — Northwest Whitfield at Carrollton: My young and simple-minded colleague Devin Golden grew up in an age where everyone got a trophy. He thinks it is a shame that a 9-1 Northwest team has to play arguably the second-best team in the state in the first round of the playoffs, to the extent that he has been working on a way to seed the field from 1 to 32.

Northwest’s situation might be a shame, but if the Bruins wanted to avoid a first-round road trip to one of the most tradition-rich programs in the state then they should have won one more game. Is Northwest the second-best team in Region 7? Maybe, but you knew the rules before the season started, and if you wanted to guarantee a home game you had to win your sub-region. Not everyone gets a trophy.

So instead of staying in the friendly confines of Bruin Stadium, Northwest must travel to Carrollton in what might be one of the best first-round contests in the state.

Computers and tradition will tell you this is not going to be a close game. According to the computer rankings at maxpreps.com, Northwest is a 34-point underdog. The Bruins are making their first trip to the playoffs since 2009. The last time Carrollton didn’t make the state playoffs, Northwest coach Josh Robinson was still in middle school.

But if someone handed me $100 and told me to make my biggest upset pick in the state, this would be it. Nine times out of 10, I think Carrollton wins this game, but could tonight be that ONE time they don’t?

The last time Carrollton played a team with the kind of offensive chemistry the Bruins have shown they lost 24-7 to Sandy Creek. Now, Northwest doesn’t have nearly the amount of speed or skilled athletes that Sandy Creek does, but if you are looking for that 1-in-10 shot, that is the nail you have to hang your hat on if you are Northwest.

If Carrollton is able to bottle up Northwest’s offense, this will get ugly in a hurry — because Carrollton’s offense can only be stopped with superior all-around defensive speed and Northwest isn’t that fast.

So for you Bruins, here is your pep talk. How do you want to be remembered? Are you satisfied with being the first Northwest team to win nine games in the regular season? Will you be remembered for simply giving Dalton a good game or for shocking the state?

Do you want to be known as a good Northwest team or as a player on a bigger stage?

Whit’s Pick: Carrollton 38, Northwest 20

• Alexander at Dalton: For the first time since 2007, Dalton is a region champion. Like in that most recent championship season, the Catamounts will be playing a team from the Atlanta suburbs looking to make a name for itself after finishing fourth in a strong region.

The Big Red faithful better hope that is where the comparisons end in this matchup.

That 2007 first-round state playoff game was one of the best ever at Harmon Field, but not for the Dalton fans. It was a night when Cherokee’s John Valentine broke the hearts of the Cats with his dive into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown as time expired.

Now, no one on this team probably remembers that, and it will have little bearing on tonight’s game, but pay attention to the lesson. If Dalton allows Alexander to hang around and lets the Cougars believe they have a chance, they might very well take it.

Looking at the score at the end of the first quarter will tell a lot about how this game will go. Dalton must — and will — get off to a fast start in order to win this game.

Whit’s Pick: Dalton 28, Alexander 13

Chris Whitfield is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at chriswhitfield@daltoncitizen.com.

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