Just like they did earlier this year after a touchdown, Worth County junior WR/DB Lavontae Robinson (7) and senior RB/QB Savon Farley hope to be celebrating a lot tonight in Sylvester when the Rams open their Region 1-AAA slate against Americus-Sumter. (Lee Johnson/Sylvester Local)
SYLVESTER -- Americus-Sumter meets Worth County in the Region 1-AAA opener tonight in Sylvester, and there are a ton of ways you can look at this game.
But Worth County coach Scotty Ward may have the best take on it.
"It's going to be a slobber-knocker,'' he said during practice Thursday. "You know what a slobber-knocker is? It's when you get hit so hard it knocks the slobber out of your mouth. It's going to be a physical game.''
Physical, and -- most of all -- significant.
Both teams played brutal pre-region schedules just to get ready for tonight, and this is one time when the phrase "you can throw the records out the window,'' really applies.
"We play that schedule to get us ready for the region,'' Americus-Sumter coach Michael Pollock said. "Last year we started out 1-3 and then went 5-1 in the region. It benefited us last year, and hopefully it will again. I feel real good about the situation.''
Both teams are 2-2, but the losses have come against quality programs.
"When you play good folks they expose where you need to improve, and it gives you a chance chance to improve,'' Pollock said. "That's what has happened. We're a lot better (now than at the beginning of the season). We've improved every week. We're better on offense, defense and special teams. Playing these games allows us to shuffle some folks around.''
Pollock has tweaked his lineup and several young kids have come through for the Panthers, such as Wesley Fields, a freshman who gained 55 yards in the fourth quarter last week to emerge as a factor when Americus-Sumter beat Class AAAA Houston County, 20-15.
GAME OF THE WEEK --- Want To Go or Follow Online?
WHO: Americus-Sumter (2-2) at Worth County (2-2).
WHAT: Region 1-AAA opener for both teams.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today.
LIVE UPDATES: Go online, log on and follow the game at: twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.
Worth has played one of -- if not the -- most difficult schedules in the state for a Class AAA team, losing to Class AA powers Fitzgerald and Cook, which are both ranked in the Top 10 state poll, and beating Class AAAAA Tift County last week, 22-14.
"The last two years the GHSA ranked us as having the toughest schedule in the state of Georgia for a AAA team,'' Ward said. "And we played the same teams this year. We do that to get ready for the region. We're through with the starting part of the season. Now we're into the real season.''
His kids believe it, too.
"This is the game Worth County will make a statement,'' Worth offensive tackle Martinez Wilcher said Thursday. "This is where it begins. We're going for the region title, and Americus-Sumter is the first game. We've got to win this game.''
Both teams went to the playoffs last year as Americus-Sumter finished second in the region, and Worth was third. The difference? Americus-Sumter's 20-12 region-opening win against Worth.
It was a nailbiter. Worth was driving in the closing minutes and faced a fourth-and-12 at the A-S 30.
"We gained about 11 yards and nine inches,'' Ward said. "It was a real good game, and I'm expecting the same kind of game this time, real physical and low-scoring.''
Expect Worth to run the ball. That's the Rams' bread and butter, and that shouldn't change much this season -- even though Ward has changed a lot in the last two weeks. He moved Savon Farley to quarterback last week, and Farley broke off a 62-yard TD run against Tift. Farley adds a dimension to an already talented Worth.
Ward also changed his defense last week, going from a 3-5 to a 4-4 alignment, and it couldn't have worked much better against Tift as the Rams held the bigger school to minus-34 yards rushing. Defensive back Lavantae Robinson, who leads one of the top secondaries in Southwest Georgia, had three interceptions in that game, and had a fourth interception overruled by an official.
One thing that hasn't changed is the Rams' running game. Wilcher and Davin Gibson, a center who has been named to the all-region teams the past two years, head a talented offensive line, and Ellis Anderson is the key to the Rams' offense. Anderson has gained 530 yards in four games.
"We know region is a lot more important than the pre-region games,'' Anderson said. "The pre-region got us prepared. Everyone in our region knows we have a tough schedule. It helps us get ready for (tonight). I think we're a lot better (for playing those tough opponents). We're playing better right now, and playing with a lot more intensity and we're more focused.''
Anderson will go against a stingy A-S defense that is especially good against the run. Liberty County running back Shadrach Thornton has received offers from a long list of Division I schools, including Georgia Tech, but he couldn't do much against Americus-Sumter.
"He gained only 84 yards against us,'' Pollock said. "And he has gained at least 250 yards in every game since he has played us and has over 800 yards in four games.''
Defensive tackle Shykeith Johnson leads Americus' defensive line, and the Panthers have had several players step up -- including first-year starting QB Bryce Benton -- so far this season.
"We're playing great team defense,'' Pollock said. "We've got a lot of team speed. I'm looking at who we've played. We held Cook to 12 points and held Houston County to a safety, a field goal and a touchdown. We've played playoff-caliber teams. (But Worth has) played good teams, too.
"Both teams are battle-tested. We're kind of in the same boat. They've got speed all over the field. I look for it to be another good game with them. This game is big. It's huge. Winning this first region game would really put us in the driver's seat as far as making the playoffs. Our goal is to win the region title, but you better win Game 1.''
Sounds pretty important -- a real slobber-knocker.