Welcome to football’s second season, a.k.a., the playoffs.
Stockbridge Worth County
Union Grove Bainbridge
It is here where the dreams and aspirations of winter conditioning, spring ball, summer workouts and fall camp turn into make-or-break reality.
It’s no longer just “win or lose.” It’s win, or go home. Win, or better luck next year. Win, or seniors end their career with a bad taste in their mouths.
The stage is set for postseason drama and you’d better believe that while each team is happy to be there, they aren’t just happy to be there.
The Riverdale Raiders, under second-year coach Olten Downs, are making their first appearance in the state playoffs since 2005, when they lost 30-28 to perennial south Georgia power Valdosta.
Tonight’s opponent won’t be Valdosta, but Riverdale will travel south to face another Georgia stalwart in Cairo. The 10th-ranked Syrupmakers are another south Georgia stalwart as they are making their 10th straight playoff appearance.
Cairo is just four years removed from a Class AAA state title and, after a 39-13 loss to Thomas County Central in Week 3, has reeled off seven straight wins, averaging almost 40 points a game in that span.
Downs’ Raiders have regained some defensive mojo in their last four games, surrendering just 12 points per contest. But the stage at Cairo’s West Thomas Stadium will prove a bit too large for Riverdale.
Look for them to keep it close in the first quarter and a half before Cairo pulls away.
Westover will no doubt be playing the revenge card as it looks to pay back Jonesboro and ruin coach Tim Floyd’s return to his alma mater. The Cardinals scored a 34-12 comeback victory against the Patriots on Sept. 7 after being down 12-7 at the half. The Patriots have gone 6-2 since, including four straight. Which means they’ve improved since the initial meeting.
But so has No. 7 Jonesboro. And the Cardinals should go 2-0 against the Patriots, taking the next step toward a state title.
After Union Grove’s 39-0 loss to Whitewater in Week 3, Wolverines coach Paul Burgdorf said his team purposed to play the rest of the season in such a way that it would force them — and others — to forget about that game.
After six straight victories and a Region 4-AAAAA, Division A title, I think it’s safe to say: Mission accomplished.
Enter Bainbridge, which will roll into town riding the crest of momentum that comes from a four-game winning streak. The Bearcats are hungry for a deep run into the postseason after losing a tight one to Ware County in last year’s first round.
A battle of tailbacks should take place featuring Union Grove’s Derrick Craine, who’s rushed for 1,796 and 21 touchdowns this year, against Bainbridge’s Damian Bouie, who churned out 259 yards and ran for three scores in the Bearcats’ 49-42 season finale win against Lee County.
Union Grove has one of the Southern Crescent’s best homefield advantages, and that will fuel the Wolverines to make enough big plays down the stretch to eke out a close one in the fourth quarter.
Gabriel Stovall covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter? Follow him @gabrielstovall1.