Sports

October 25, 2013

Consider the possibilities

Much more than bragging rights at stake as Southeast hosts Northwest

A win tonight rewards Northwest Whitfield High School’s football team with a meaningful 10th game.

For Southeast Whitfield, the ceiling is much higher, but the risk is much greater.

The Raiders’ region championship hopes hinge on winning their next three games, but a loss to the Bruins — the two Sub-region 7B-4A teams square off tonight in a rivalry clash at Raider Stadium — all but dooms their chances of making the state playoffs.

In other local games tonight, Christian Heritage hosts Providence Christian in a non-region matchup, Murray County is at Dade County in a Region 7-2A game, Coahulla Creek welcomes Ringgold and North Murray visits Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe in Region 5-3A contests and Dalton visits Heritage-Catoosa in another Sub-region 7B-4A matchup.

For Northwest (6-1, 2-1 Sub-region 7B-4A), the dreams of winning a sub-region and region championship took a major blow two weeks ago when the Bruins lost 31-28 to Dalton, which is still undefeated in sub-region play. However, Northwest still has the chance to finish either second or third in the sub-region and play in one of the games that determine the region’s third and fourth seeds for the Class 4A state playoffs.

(During the final week of the regular season, the sub-region champions will play each other to determine the region’s first and second seeds for state. The No. 2 finisher in each sub-region will cross over to play the No. 3 finisher from the other sub-region, with the winner advancing to state and the losers done for year.)

The Bruins have to win either tonight or next week against visiting LaFayette (0-7, 0-3) for a chance to finish in the sub-region’s top three, and a win against the Raiders (4-3, 2-1) clinches second place.

“(Making the playoffs) really was our biggest goal this season,” Northwest senior offensive lineman Ross Chadwick said. “We wanted to go 10-0 and win the region, but we’re still in a good position to make the playoffs.”

Southeast could fly to the top or sink nearly out of sight. A win means next week’s game against Dalton is for the sub-region championship. If the Raiders lose tonight, they no longer control their destiny even in the hunt to finish in the top three in the sub-region.

“It’s just fun to be in a rivalry game with this much on the line,” Southeast coach Sean Gray said.

Northwest and Southeast have played 35 times since their series began when the two schools opened in 1975, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association website (ghsfha.org). The Bruins have won 28 of those meetings and the past 16 in a row, including last year’s 31-7 result.

“You always want to beat people who are your competitors,” Northwest coach Josh Robinson said. “When it’s anyone who is close to you, who competes in the same county and same school system, you want to win that game.”

Bruins quarterback Caleb Shiflett has thrown for 1,372 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, with 1,077 of those yards and all but three of those touchdowns to senior wide receivers Andy Whisenant and Tevin McDaniel. Running back Jacob Webb is averaging a little more than 100 yards per game.

Northwest’s fast-paced no-huddle spread offense is run by coordinator David Crane, who was head coach at Southeast from 2008 to 2011. Southeast senior Rhett Harper started at receiver as a freshman and sophomore under Crane’s direction and knows his former coach’s offensive style well.

“It’s very hard to defend,” Harper said. “Playing in it, you don’t think it’s that fast. Playing against it, like last year, it’s on the ball all the time.”

The Raiders have used two different offensive styles this season. One is smash-mouth I-formation play with Harper at quarterback; the other is based in the spread and directed by sophomore quarterback Will Swantic, who is also a threat to run, having rushed for 393 yards this season. Robinson said he is preparing for “probably the most talented team” in many years at Southeast.

“Any time you play a team with a nothing-to-lose type approach — and they’re very much in that possibility to get a playoff spot, but they’re also in a position to let everything loose — that’s dangerous,” he said.

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