BAINBRIDGE -- When asked Thursday what the Bainbridge-Cairo rivalry means to him, Bearcats coach Ed Pilcher was quick and to the point.
"It means a lot," Pilcher began, "a whole lot."
Tonight in Bainbridge when the longtime neighboring rivals line up against one another, it will be the 65th time the two programs have met since 1922 when the rivalry first began. It only took three breaks in that span: 1927, '29 and '30 and then became a once-in-a-blue-moon affair from 1970-1995 when the two teams moved into different classifications before resuming for good in 1996.
It resumed on a regular basis in 1996 and has been played every year since then, except in 2008 when it was canceled because of Hurricane Ike.
Cairo leads the series all-time, 30-26, with eight ties mixed in, although the Bearcats won the most recent meeting last year when All-State kicker Keenan Adams booted a game-winning 52-yard field goal -- a kick that broke the Bearcats' school record.
"It's a huge rivalry game. Just huge," said Pilcher, who's seen plenty of Cairo in his time, having coached at nearby Thomas County Central for 17 years before coming to Bainbridge in 2008. "It's going to be a tough one for us, but our kids are up to the challenge."
They'll have to be after last week's sloppy performance against Early County -- a game during which the Bearcats fumbled six times, losing five of those, and were lucky to escape with a 14-7 win when Brandon Linzy picked off a pass with 7.3 seconds left and took it to the house to break a 7-7 tie.
"That's mostly what we've worked on all week: eliminating turnovers," Pilcher said. "The kids have worked real hard on their reads and positioning and things like that. I think we'll be much better (in the turnover department) this week."
Cairo, meanwhile, is coming off a 40-0 drubbing of Drew in its opener and has every intention of storming Bainbridge tonight and moving to 2-0. This will be the eighth time Cairo coach Tom Fallaw has coached against Pilcher, whether it be at Thomas County Central or Bainbridge, Pilcher's home the last three years.
The good news for Bearcats fans? Fallaw is just 2-4 in his last six meetings against Pilcher.
"Anytime you play (against Pilcher), you can try to duplicate the speed of which they do things, but you can't," Fallaw told The Thomasville Times-Enterprise this week. "A lot of times when you play them, you find yourself in an early hole. A lot of times against teams of their caliber, that's enough to beat you. They're going to be fundamentally sound on defense. If they can get a couple of scores up on you while you're sleepwalking through the pace of their veer, they've got you beat.
"That happened to us last year. We made a couple of mistakes, and, shoot, before we turned around, it was 16-0."
Pilcher remembers all to well how his team got that lead in 2009 - and he also remembers losing in the second half and needing Adams' leg to save the day.
"They're great on offense. They're great on defense. They just swarm to the ball," Pilcher said. "Especially in that second half last year. They almost got us."
Pilcher said he and Fallaw are, and have always been, "on good terms," but noted that the phone lines have been silent this week leading up to the game.
"No, we haven't talked," Pilcher laughed. "He's too busy (getting ready for us), and I'm too busy (getting ready for them)."
As for whether the ol' ball coach has any concerns -- injuries or otherwise -- leading up to tonight, just as Pilcher started the conversation Thursday, he was once again quick and to the point. "I always have concerns when I'm playing Cairo," he said. "It's a big rivalry, one that's been going on long before I got here and will continue after I leave. And it's one that always brings out the best in both teams."