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It couldn't mean more

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- They both went to Albany State University, played on the same Golden Rams defense, and belong to the same fraternity. At one point Jesse Hicks was even Octavia Jones' coach at ASU.

So how do the two Omega Psi Phi brothers feel about each other?

"For two-and-a-half hours (tonight), we will be enemies,'' said Hicks, who took over as the head football coach at Dougherty this season.

Jones feels the same way. He just took over at Westover, where he's trying to establish some tradition in the basketball-rich school on Friday nights, and he would love to beat his frat brother tonight. Both men know what tonight means to their programs, to their communities and to the landscape of high school football in Albany.

It's Dougherty-Westover Week.

'Nuff said.

That's what the signs hanging all over Westover say: "Beat Dougherty -- Enough said!'' Those signs are hanging everywhere, just like the ones at Dougherty, which say "Destroy Westover."

The irony is no one needs a sign to tell either team what's at stake tonight at Hugh Mills Stadium, where the city rivalry matchup is only part of why this game is significant. It's also the first Region 1-AAA game for both teams, and a showcase for two programs that are trying to establish themselves.

"It's a rival, a team across town, somebody you know,'' Hicks said."We've got kids on this team and their brothers go to Westover. You don't have to say much to get them up for this game. Their kids will be up. Our kids will be up.''

So will Albany.

"I think we'll get a big crowd for the game,'' Hicks said. "I think it will be an electric atmosphere. We haven't seen anything like that so far this year, not like we are going to see (tonight).''

Both communities have been talking about the game all week, and all four schools in Albany started talking about the city rivalry back in August. That's because for the first time in years, all four schools play each other. Westover is 1-0 with a victory against Albany High, and Monroe is 1-0 with a lightning-shortened victory against Albany High.

But Albany High is 1-2 by virtue of a 16-14 win against Dougherty, which is 0-1 in city games.

"It's time for us to get our win (tonight) against Westover,'' said Dougherty senior Sharoski Griffin, who has played quarterback, cornerback, safety, receiver and also runs back kickoffs and punts for the Trojans. "It's a city rivalry and we want to be the city champs.''

Someone is going to end up as a city champ this season, and it's not difficult to understand what that means.

"It means bragging rights for 365 days,'' said Jones, whose program might be ignited if the Patriots end up going 3-0 against the other city teams.

"We're trying to establish a program here and we want to establish ourselves as a team to be reckoned with in the city,'' Jones said. "Our kids realize how important it is because we are building a program. "

Hicks' mantra is the pride is back at Dougherty, and he has preached from Day 1 about "bringing the pride back to the East side of Albany.''

Jones, who knows Westover has had just four winning seasons in 40 years, is instilling his own message.

"We're trying to establish some pride,'' he said. "And winning this game would help us do that. I always tell them, play with pride and play with passion.''

The Patriots (1-3) have lost their last two games, but are healthier this week than they have been all season. Four players -- center Sam Newman, fullback Shon Armstrong, cornerback Donovan Bryant, and linebacker Don Mills -- missed last week's 21-14 loss to Early County.

They're all back and Trent Brown, a 6-foot-7, 310-pound offensive tackle won his appeal with the GHSA this week and will play his first game of the season tonight.

Newman, who is the heart and soul of Westover's offensive line, and Brown could make a big difference, because Westover loves to run the ball.

"Our line is 100 percent back for this game,'' Newman said. "It's Dougherty and we're playing to win the city championship. We'll play the hardest we've played all season. This game means a lot. It means the world to me. It's the most important game we have played so far.''

Dougherty has some momentum coming into the game. The Trojans (2-2) lost two close games by a total of 14 points, but have now won two in a row, and they beat Wilkenson County, 21-19, in the final minute last week when Griffin grabbed a tipped pass in the end zone.

"We have been in every game, but we have shot ourselves in the foot. Last week, we didn't,'' Hicks said. "But what I saw last week was that when there was about a minute and a half left in the game, our kids were saying, 'It's not over.' That's what you want to see.''

It may come down to a final play tonight.

"Both teams are a lot alike, and I don't think there's a big difference in the teams in this region,'' Hicks said. "Looking at the two offenses and the two defenses, we're very similar. It's going to come down to who wants it a little more. And there's nothing better than that.''

Jones couldn't agree more.

"It's a city rivalry game so you can throw out the records. Throw out everything,'' he said. "It's also the first region game, and we want to get to the playoffs. Everything you've done to this point can be eliminated, because you've got to win the region games to get to the playoffs, and we want to be playing in November.''

So does Dougherty.

"It's a city rivalry game, but it's also the first game in the region,'' Hicks said. "Now it counts toward the postseason. We want to get to the playoffs. We want to be playing in November, and this is the first W toward getting there.''

Simple enough: Just beat one of your biggest rivals to kick off a region race in a game that means so much for different reasons.

"It means everything,'' Westover quarterback Justin Taylor said. "The city rivalry, the region, winning respect. It means everything.''