Herald Dynamite Dozen selection Kenneth Towns leads the Patriots into a huge Region 1-AAA showdown against top-dog Cairo tonight at Hugh Mills Stadium. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY -- Westover had just beaten Crisp County, 20-6, last Friday to improve to 2-1 in the Region 1-AAA race, but the celebration was short -- just like Patriots coach Octavia Jones' message.
"The road to the region title runs through Cairo,'' Jones said moments after the win as he addressed his team at Hugh Mills Stadium. "We want the opportunity to win the region and now it's at hand.''
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WHO: Cairo (5-2, 3-0 in 1-AAA) at Westover (4-3, 2-1 in 1-AAA).
WHAT: Huge Region 1-AAA showdown.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today.
WHERE: Hugh Mills Stadium.
LIVE UPDATES: Go online, log on and follow the game at: twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.
It's here all right, along with the killer Syrupmakers, who will be arriving at Hugh Mills Stadium tonight with enough tradition to smother most teams and surely enough history to beat a Westover program that has had only four winning seasons in 43 years of playing football.
Westover has had four winning seasons since 1968.
Cairo? Well, it's had 34 in the same stretch.
It's the dynasty vs. the anti-dynasty.
This is Cairo -- 'nuff said.
The Syrupmakers simply dominate this region, especially lately. Since 2007, Cairo is 27-1 in Region 1-AAA games, and the one loss was to the 2009 Peach County team that went 15-0 and won the state title.
That's right, 27-1.
"I'm not surprised,'' said Jones when he heard the numbers. "When I was a player at Monroe the region ran through Cairo. When I was an assistant coach at Monroe the region ran through Cairo. Now I'm a head coach at Westover and the region runs through Cairo. Nothing has changed.''
Jones not only wants change, he believes in it. He came to Westover last season and started preaching to his kids about winning and creating a new tradition in Northwest Albany. They believe in him. So much so that they believe they can beat Cairo tonight, and then win their final two region games and take home the region title.
Well, not just a Region 1-AAA title, but the first region title in Westover history.
Just beat Cairo tonight.
That might not be easy. Cairo has won 17 of 20 games against Westover, including the last 11 and 16 of the last 17. The Syrupmakers beat Westover, 45-0, last year.
But Jones' kids don't need a history lesson.
"We feel they are the same as us,'' Westover defensive tackle and Herald Dynamite Dozen selection Chris Green said. "Just because they have the momentum and are used to winning, that doesn't mean they can't be beat.''
Westover has been waiting for this game.
"I definitely believe we can win,'' Jones said. "They understand the task at hand. In our last meeting after the season last year before the offseason, we talked about winning the region title. That was in November. We talked about wanting to be the region champs. We have afforded ourselves the opportunity. Now it's here.''
Forget Westover's 4-3 record. The Patriots lost three games by a total of 10 points and with a bit of luck could easily be unbeaten right now. It took three overtimes for Class AAAA Bainbridge to beat Westover, 23-20, just a week after Bainbridge beat Cairo, 17-14. The Patriots are tied for second in the Region 1-AAA race, but that could change tonight.
Westover's success is not surprising to Cairo coach Tom Fallaw.
"Westover's always got a lot of good athletes," Fallaw told the Thomasville Times-Enterprise this week. "Coach Jones is a very good football coach that came from Monroe where he had won a lot of football games on the defensive side of the ball, where he was their coordinator. He also did a good job with their track program. Coach Jones is a good coach. He's done a good job at Westover."
Cairo is coming off an overtime win against Worth County, which stormed back from a 27-7 deficit to send the game into OT. The Rams drove 90 yards in the final three and a half minutes to knot the score at 27-27 on an 11-yard TD pass from Savon Farley to Kareem McDaniel with 26 seconds left to send the game into overtime, but Cairo QB Steven Bench ran for a TD in overtime to give Cairo a 33-27 win.
Again, credit Cairo's tradition.
"That's one thing we told them when we all pulled up when the game was tied there in the end: We've been here before,'' Fallaw said. "We've had some overtime games, last year at Thomas County Central and Monroe a couple of years before that. These kids have been involved with it. We just kind of reminded them the process of it. They kind of cleared their head and went to war there in the overtime period."
Jones knows what to expect after Cairo's scare against Worth.
"I know they are going to come to play after what happened last week,'' he said. "They won't be caught slipping this week. They'll play four quarters, and they've got some players back.''
Cairo was fortunate to see the return of running back Damian Edwards, who rushed for 162 yards and two TDs in his first game of the season. Linebacker/running back Drake Robertson will play in his first game of the season tonight.
Both were suspended by Cairo before the season ever began.
According to an article published in late August by the Times-Enterprise, administrators for the Grady County School System said that the two Cairo players who were arrested in a robbery and assault case -- Edwards, 18, and Robertson, 17 -- were currently not on the team as the investigation unfolded. Cairo police allege that the two were involved in the assault and robbery of a Hispanic male Aug. 21.
They were suspended from CHS for a week and returned to school at the system's CrossRoads program Monday, according to the Times-Enterprise.
Cairo principal David McCurry confirmed to The Herald on Thursday afternoon that both Edwards and Robertson would play in tonight's game against Westover after both were ruled eligible recently -- Edwards played his first game of the season last week against Worth County, while tonight will be Robertson's first game back.
When McCurry was asked by The Herald whether either player had been cleared of their legal troubles, he referred questions to the players' attorneys, adding that Cairo High School was able to clear them to play after recently forming a committee to deal with situations such as these.
"On the school level, we came up with a procedure based on the input of our school board attorney to deal with issues like this now -- and in the future -- in case a child is every accused a (crime). And it's not limited to just football, but any (student-athlete) who is involved in an extracurricular activity," McCurry said. "Basically, we've formed a committee that will consist of (myself as the principal), our A.D. and the coach for that sport or activity. If it's football, the head football coach will be a part of the committee, or if it's a band member or cheerleader, (his or her) band director or cheerleading coach will be the third member that helps decide a timeline for when the child can return.
"In this case, we sat down and came up with a timeline on when (Drake and Damian) could return (based on what we know about their case). And in this case, we set Damian's timeline to return for last week, and I can't go into specifics why we made Drake's timeline (a week later), but I can say he is expected to dress (tonight against Westover)."
Cairo is 3-0 in the region, which all but guarantees it a spot in the playoffs, but the Syrupmakers want to go unbeaten and win their fourth region title in the past five years.
"We're still in the hunt of things for a region championship. Anytime you're in the hunt, I'm sure the kids are excited and they want to win a championship," Fallaw told the Times-Enterprise. "Those kind of things add excitement to any season."
That's how big this game is -- to both teams.
"This is a real big game for us,'' Westover junior linebacker Don Mills said. "We want to be the region champs and we know to do that we have to beat Cairo.
"They have tradition, but to me that's a mind thing. It's a word. They have tradition, and we want to establish our own tradition. If we win it will probably start building (our tradition) and it definitely is a statement that we are for real.''
Mills respects the Syrupmakers as much as any team he's seen this season -- even though he has seen them only on film.
"They play as a team. They're very disciplined,'' he said. "They have more discipline than any team I've seen. When I see (tape of them) on defense I see people flying to the ball, and I see their offensive line staying low and doing what they're supposed to do.''
Part of that tradition is team speed, and that hasn't changed.
"They've got speed everywhere you look,'' Jones said. "Cairo a has a program. They're fundamentally sound. They play power football. You know what they're going to do, and you just have to try to stop it.
"We believe we're fundamentally sound, too,'' Jones added. "It comes down to man on man, mano y mano. They have a great offensive line. That's the key to Cairo. They move people off the ball. It's smash-mouth football. Whoever wins in the trenches will win. We have to go out and match their intensity, play smash-mouth football and mistake-free football.''
The Patriots, more than anything else, just have to beat the trend.
"It's tradition, and they've got it,'' Jones said. "Their guys grow up in elementary school longing for the day they can play football for Cairo. They see the guys ahead of them have success, and they want to have success.
"We want that kind of success at Westover.''