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PREP FOOTBALL PREDICTIONS: It's statement time tonight in Southwest Georgia

Herald high school beat writer Mike Phillips

Herald high school beat writer Mike Phillips

Statement games, you gotta love 'em.

That's what we've got this week, games that mean so much more.

How do you even measure Westover-Dougherty Week?

You've got two programs on the way up with two coaches who are both preaching about pride and rebirth, about finding their own place in the world.

The entire seasons at these schools are about making a statement.

Oh yeah, and the coaches are fraternity brothers who are both brand new to the programs they're trying to resurrect.

It's like the old Texas coach once said when he was talking about his next opponent:

"Well, it's kind of like when my 3-year-old grandson looks in the mirror,'' he said. "He sees a guy who looks a whole lot like himself.''

That's Westover-Dougherty. Don't call them twins (it will just make them mad on both sides of town). They're different -- unique in every way -- but they're on the same road, that same highway to redemption. And it's going to get crowded this evening at Hugh Mills Stadium.

Real crowded.

It's the Region 1-AAA opener so that would be enough to get both teams sky high, but that's a sidenote, because what is so much more important is the city rivalry. This is the first time in years that all four city schools are playing each other, and someone is going to emerge as the city champ.

It's like Westover coach Octavia Jones says: "That's 365 days of bragging rights.''

In the old days, the kids would actually get patches to put on jackets that read "City Champs," and -- believe it or not -- there was a time when the city champion team would be rewarded with a trip to watch the Peach Bowl in Atlanta every year.

That's not going to happen (heck, they don't even call it the Peach Bowl these days), but the bragging rights and all the bravado that goes with winning the city title will fuel each one of these All-Albany classics.

Tonight's game will be an instant classic. That's a guarantee. Get there early and plan to stay for the last play of the game. It could come down to that.

Last week, Dougherty's Sharoski Griffin caught a tipped pass in the end zone with 58 seconds left to beat Wilkinson County, 21-19, so if you believe in momentum, the Trojans have it. They've won two in a row, and their two losses were close, a last-second, 16-14, defeat to Albany High, and a tough, 18-6, loss at Mitchell County.

Coach Jesse Hicks has been talking about "bringing pride back to the East Side,'' since the day he took the job at Dougherty. You can see it written on T-shirts. It's more than a slogan, more than a mantra. It's a belief, a calling, a sense of belonging.

Hicks believes because of Dougherty's rich tradition that the Trojans belong to the football elite, and that it's just a matter of time until they take their proper place there.

At Westover, they're looking for their place in the sun, looking for some light at the end of a 40-year-old tunnel that has left this school -- rich in success in other sports -- wondering what it will take to make a name for itself on Friday nights.

Some say the answer is two words: Octavia Jones.

Both Jones and Hicks face long, uphill roads, the kind that are filled with critics and doubters, the kind of folks who never see change coming because they're blinded by their own short-sightedness.

It's coming.

And someone will take a big step tonight.

It's impossible for me to pick this one, but when it's a coin toss, I usually go with the team with the best kicker (no pressure on Danny Brown).

PREDICTION: Westover 24, Dougherty 21

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NORTHSIDE, COLUMBUS AT LEE COUNTY:

If you like statement games, there's one in Lee County, where the Trojans have to beat Northside, Columbus -- as well as the local critics tonight. Yes, I read those snippy little comments online, the ones that knock Lee County's remarkable 3-0 start.

Well, Northside is undefeated, a team that has given up just 35 points this season. So what happens if Lee County knocks off the Patriots?

I'm telling you right now, Lee County scores at least 35 tonight.

The Trojans will be 4-0 and 1-0 in Region 1-AAAA after tonight, but if you think tonight's statement time for Lee County, just listen to senior offensive lineman Dakota Wilson.

"It doesn't take one game to make a point,'' he said. "We want to make a statement all season long.''

You gotta love Lee County's pedal-to-the-metal offense (well, the kids from Northside won't like it). The Trojans won't put up their 54-point average tonight, but they'll score enough to get that first region win. So make some more room on that Leesburgbandwagon. They'll be jumping on by the third quarter tonight.

PREDICTION: Lee County 35, Northside, 21.

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MILLER COUNTY AT TERRELL COUNTY:

It's time to start doing the math in Region 1-A, where you have five playoff caliber teams and only four playoff spots. Someone's going to be left out. This is going to be fun to watch, and sad for the team that doesn't grab the musical chair when it's over.

That's why tonight's Miller County-Terrell County game means so much more. Terrell has already lost a heartbreaker on a Hail Mary to Seminole earlier so needs to win tonight. Unfortunately, two starters are out because of disciplinary reasons.

So far it looks like Mitchell and Randolph-Clay could be just ahead of the class here, which means Seminole, Miller and Terrell County will be in a dogfight with Pelham right there in the hunt, despite having to forfeit a game to Stewart.

Just wondering how many positions Juwan Jones will play tonight?

The guess here is he gets at least two sacks and runs a kick back, and that will lift Miller.

PREDICTION: Miller 28, Terrell County 21

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MITCHELL COUNTY AT STEWART COUNTY:

The only reason I'm mentioning this one-sided game is for Mitchell coach Dondrial Pinkins, who promised to wear a blue and red dress right downtown if the Eagles went 2-8 this season. Pinkins and his kids get win No. 3 tonight. No dress, no parade --- well, unless they win the state title. Stay tuned...

PREDICTION: Mitchell County 48, Stewart County 7

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WEBSTER COUNTY AT BACONTON CHARTER:

BC gets win No. 2 tonight. That's right, the Blazers officially got their first win on the Pelham forfeit, but beating Webster will mean so much more for this scrappy bunch of kids and a community that loves them. James Davis is going to have a monster night, and they'll be talking about this game at the Midway for a long time.

OK, I admit it. I've been dying to pick the Blazers in this column. I literally have friends from around the country who know Baconton Charter's inspirational story who call me and ask how the Blazers are doing.

Tonight's the night!

PREDICTION: Baconton Charter 21, Webster 14.

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MONROE AT CAIRO:

MHS gets the toughest draw in Georgia -- on the road against Cairo.

The Syrupmakers are ranked No. 3 in the Class AAA state poll (they should be No. 1), and have given up just 13 points all year -- and that was to state-ranked AAAA Thomas County Central in OT. Monroe will do what only one team has done. The Tornadoes will find the end zone and make this game close. They may even pull off the upset of the week. If they do, I'll apologize to Monroe coach Charles Truitt and take him to breakfast (all the pancakes and syrup he can eat).

PREDICTION: Cairo 14, Monroe 7.

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WORTH COUNTY AT AMERICUS-SUMTER:

This is impossible to call, but I'm going with the Rams, who are coming off a pair of hard-to-take losses. They'll take them and move on, and winning the Region 1-AAA opener will do wonders for the healing process.

PREDICTION: Worth 31, Americus-Sumter 30.

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GISA SLATE:

Now on to the GISA, and if you're a regular reader you already know I'm taking Deerfield-Windsor against Brentwood and the Westwood Wonders against the world (the Wildcats will beat Fullington Academy this week). Sherwood gets the nod, too, against a very talented Trinity Christian team, and Terrell Academy gets its first win of the season against Crisp Academy. No one ever thought Terrell Academy would be called a sleeper, but the Eagles are about to take off and turn their season around.

PREDICTION: Deerfield-Windsor 38, Brentwood 14.

PREDICTION: Westwood 31, Fullington 7.

PREDICTION: SCA 21, Trinity 14.

PREDICTION: Terrell Academy 21, Crisp 0.