ALBANY -- It didn't take long for Archie Chatmon to get his team's feet back on the ground.
"We landed that plane the next day at practice,'' said Chatmon, whose Albany Indians were sky-high after beating city rival Westover in overtime at Westover on Saturday night, before adding with a smile: "Of course, I had to sabotage the plane myself. We had to get our feet back on the ground because we're playing Mitchell County, and you can't be floating up there against them.''
Mitchell County isn't just coming to Albany to face the Indians tonight, the Eagles will land in the Good Life City with a 7-0 record.
It's been a fun run at Mitchell, where two coaches and a dozen players have all been part of this unbeaten start to a season that is suddenly full of promise.
"I'm the head coach, but a lot of credit goes to my assistant coach Derex Woumnm. We're really co-coaches,'' said Mitchell coach Kenneth Harris, who was also the longtime coach of the girls team before handing that job off to Rosemary Sanders last year to focus solely on the boys program. "He's really done a great job with these kids.''
Mitchell's fast break from the gate comes complete with a team that plays in shifts. Harris substitutes so much that it's hard to point to one or two stars.
"We're two deep at every position,'' Harris said. "We dress out 15 and normally play about 13. It's sort of funny. Sometimes the starters have a hard time getting back in the game because the other players are playing so well.''
The formula has worked. Mitchell, which dropped from Class AA to Class A this season, has already beaten Randolph-Clay, one of the top teams in the Region 1-A race, and region and county rival Pelham.
"Everybody has been playing well,'' Harris said. "Every game it's a different person. The most difficult job we have is to make sure everybody gets enough playing time.''
Stacy Butler, a sophomore shooting guard, is averaging 15 points a game, and four other players are close to averaging in double figures: Leroy Waters, a senior small forward, Rueben Jackson, a 6-foot-4 senior forward, J-Meel Richardson, a 6-3 senior center, and DiQuan Isom, a 6-3 junior forward who can shoot 3s. They have all been a big part of Mitchell's success story.
The Albany-Mitchell rivalry is not only rich in tradition and history, but the two coaches are good friends who once played in the same backcourt together in the late 1970s and early '80s at Georgia Southwestern State University.
"We're old friends,'' Harris said Thursday as he prepared his team for the 7:30 p.m. showdown today. "We have played Monroe and Dougherty and Westover in the past, but we have always played Albany every year no matter what region we are in. It's a nice atmosphere and I know Chatmon well. When I make out the schedule I always call him.''
Chatmon feels the same way about the ageless bond between the coaches and the rich history of the rivalry.
And facing an unbeaten team after the big win against Westover may be just what the Indians (1-3) need.
"It will be a competitive game,'' Chatmon said. "It always is.''
Albany won more than just a game when the Indians beat Herald No. 3 Westover (which was No. 2 in the Top 5 Poll before that loss) at the legendary Boston Garden on Saturday.
"Winning a game like that can give you more confidence,'' Chatmon said. "It can give you confidence across the board, as an individual and as a team. You have players who can now say, 'I know I can play with them,' and also say I know our team can play, because if you can play with Westover, you can play with anybody.''
Albany played Dougherty close before losing 55-52 and then lost to Westover, 60-59, on Nov. 23 before beating the Patriots, 59-53, in overtime, so the Indians are used to playing in close games -- and expect nothing less from Mitchell County.
They are expecting more from each other.
Kenneth Anderson, a 5-11 junior point guard, has emerged in the past two games, and Tim Pierce, a 6-0 junior who led Albany last year, has stepped up early this season. Jibri Jimmerson, a 6-5 senior center, had his best moments of the season against Westover.
Then there's the football twins, Roscoe Bryd and Jontavious Morris, a pair of 6-2 juniors who left the football field, where they starred both on sides of the line, to give Albany some inside muscle on the court.
"My two football players have really come on,'' Chatmon said. "It's a beautiful thing to watch. They are just down in there like blue-collar workers, scraping and fighting. You expected them to maybe come off the bench and play a few minuets, but they have played major roles and have stepped up.''
This is a home-and-home series, so Chatmon wants this one.
"It's always a good game, and we feel like we need to win this one at home because we are going to have to go there,'' Chatmon said. "There's no greater opportunity for us (to improve) because all of our non-region games are against monster opponents.''