Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

DAWSON -- Westwood's John Vereen says it's the game that "you circle on the calendar at the beginning of the year,'' and Daniel Hays says simply, "It's the Terrell game. We will be more pumped up for the Terrell game than a playoff game.''

And finally, this from Jake Edore: "If we win this game, it's a game they will be talking about for years, because if we win, we're the region champs.''

Any questions?

That gives you an idea just how big tonight's Westwood-Terrell Academy game is for a couple of football programs that both have their eyes on a run at a state title.

Vereen, Hays and Edore are three of the four seniors who start for Westwood's Wildcats, who will head up the road to Dawson tonight to face not only the team's biggest rival but the two-time defending state champ.

"Yeah, we know the way,'' joked Westwood defensive coordinator Earl Ford, who knows just what this game means for his unbeaten team. Westwood is 9-0 and can complete a perfect regular season, win the region title and secure home field in the GISA Class A playoffs at least until the state title game with a win tonight.

There's just as much at stake for Terrell, which has bounced back from a tough 0-2-1 start and is now in position to win the region title and grab that same home field advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

No one is surprised tonight's game will settle everything.

Westwood is the No. 1 ranked team in GISA Class A and Terrell Academy is ranked no. 4.

"It's a big game,'' Terrell coach Bill Murdock said. "It's always a big game for both of us. I think everyone looks forward to this game.''

Both schools, players and fans have been pointing toward this one for a while.

"At the beginning of the year, you look ahead a little and you felt it could end up with us playing Terrell for the region championship,'' said Westwood coach Ross Worsham, who is admittedly close friends with Murdock -- every week except this one. "This is what you work for, to have an opportunity to play for the region championship, no matter who it is in the last game. We have that opportunity.''

Westwood has been churning toward this game all year, but Terrell Academy has had a tougher road. Not only did the Eagles face a grueling schedule early in the season, but they lost their quarterback Chris Rogers in the third game of the year to a season-ending knee injury.

But Terrell Academy knows more about winning than most programs, and Murdock found another quarterback, moving linebacker Zach Hurst under center and kept the Eagles looking up instead of down or behind themselves.

After that 0-2-1 start that included a 13-13 tie against Thomas Jefferson -- the team Terrell beat for the state title last season -- and close losses to Class AA No. 2-ranked Southwest Georgia Academy (19-6) and AA No. 4-ranked Brentwood (17-12), Terrell bounced back and has won four of the last five, losing 20-12 to only AAA Southland in a controversial game that was marred by questionable officiating.

Now the Eagles have a chance to win the region with a victory tonight and a regular season-ending win next week against Randolph Southern.

They're right where everyone thought they would be -- looking Westwood in the eye for the title.

"Everybody pulled together,'' Murdock said. "We couldn't get anything to go our way early, but our kids started playing a little harder and we had some breaks start going our way.''

Levi Griffin and Todd Beaver have both rushed for more than 400 yards in a balanced wishbone attack, and Adam O'Hearn anchored a defensive line that just kept getting better along with Chandler Freeman and Jonathan Farr, who both start at tight end and defensive end.

"Last year, Westwood lost some real close games, and this year it's us losing close ones. It seems like the shoe is on the other foot,'' Murdock said.

Westwood lost, 21-19, to Terrell in 2009 when a two-point conversion pass failed in the final minutes, and then fell, 28-24, in the playoffs to Thomas Jefferson, which scored in the final minutes. Terrell and T.J. met for the state title, and Westwood came back this year more determined than any program out there.

It showed in one miracle finish after another as Westwood won it's first three games in dramatic fashion. But the Westwood Wonders, who had three heart-stopping wins against bigger schools to start the season, have soared since then in the region, outscoring opponents a staggering 242-40.

The Westwood kids have grown into an unselfish machine. They don't care who scores just as long as he's wearing orange, and it's been an orange-filled end zone.

Mason Worsham has been a general at quarterback and the Edore Brothers -- Jake, a senior who is also a deadly kicker and big-play defensive player, and J.T., a hard-running freshman -- have led a powerful rushing game along with Hays, who runs, catches passes and plays a mean linebacker position. Vereen has caught at least one TD pass in eight of the nine games, and like the rest of the group, plays both ways as well.

They have been the No. 1-ranked team in the state for most of the season, and have more than lived up to the ranking.

But tonight is different.

"This is what you're playing for,'' said Mason Worsham, a junior. "I'm pretty pumped up for this game.''

So is everyone else.

"When you walk onto that Terrell field, you just get pumped up. You feel it,'' Hays said. "It's a different feeling.''

Everyone also knows the two teams might meet for the state title later.

"Easily,'' Murdock said. "These two schools have played each other twice for the state title in the past. There's (been) a bond between these schools and Southwest Georgia Academy over the years. The kids know each other. They play against each other in different sports. It's a good rivalry.''

It will be packed in Dawson, where you couldn't ask for much more for The Herald's Game of the Week.

"It's a real good rivalry,'' Vereen said. "It's like a rivalry with a little extra spice on it.''