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PREP FOOTBALL PREDICTION COLUMN: Buckle up — the home stretch of the season is here

Herald High School Beat Writer Mike Phillips

Herald High School Beat Writer Mike Phillips

Adjust your tray tables to their upright position and fasten your seat belts, we are coming in for a landing. We’ve got a few weeks left in the season, but what happens tonight will have a lot to do with several region races all over Southwest Georgia.

There are four games this evening that are good enough to be our Game of the Week, games that will define seasons.

1) There’s Deerfield and Westfield right here in Albany in a game that pits the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams in GISA Class AAA against each other. The winner will win the region title and earn home field advantage throughout the playoffs, including the state title game. They won’t win all of that tonight. The winner will still have to run the table, but no one will beat either team the rest of the way. These two own the table.

Everybody knows what I think of the DWS kids. They will need to bring a defense that’s quick enough and smart enough to stop — well, maybe slow down — Westfield QB Evan Williams and the Hornets’ Wing-T offense. But it’s Homecoming and Deerfield wants to play the state title at home. There’s nothing better in GISA than Deerfield when it’s hungry. Tonight’s game is a feast, because so much is at stake.

It’ll be fun to watch. Williams and the Hornets will have their moments (these guys just walloped a real good team from Southland, 38-0, but there’s not a better running back in GISA than DWS’ Kh’Ron McClain, and there’s not a better coach than Allen Lowe.

He shouted this message to his kids this week: “Gentlemen, we’ve got to be perfect Friday night.’’

They might not be perfect, but they’ll be close enough.

PREDICTION: DWS 28, Westfield 20.

2) What a week for Lee County. These kids face state-ranked Thomas County Central tonight in a game that will all but decide the Region 1-AAAAA title. But the week begins with a parent storming onto the Trojans’ practice field, shouting at the coach and refusing to leave. She was finally arrested, removed and taken to jail.

You get the sense the kids from Lee have moved on and put the incident behind them. When I talked to players Wednesday, they seemed ready to play TCC. They better be. They won’t see a better offense this season, and TCC quarterback Adam Choice is the most dangerous player they will see all year.

But you have to remember that Bainbridge would have beaten TCC — which is ranked No. 6 in the Class AAAAA state poll — if not for a late block in the back penalty 20 yards behind a run in the fourth quarter that wiped out a TD. TCC ended up beating the Bearcats in overtime, 17-14.

Lee County will need more than 17 points to win tonight. The over/under on this game has to be in the 70s. Both teams are going to score at least 30 points. It would be one of the biggest upsets in the state, but you have to believe Lee County has a chance to pull it off. If the Trojans do, they will win just their second region title in school history. And if they win tonight and somehow still get upset down the stretch, they would be tied with TCC atop the region standings and would win the title based on head-to-head competition.

Let’s go with the upset.

PREDICTION: Lee County 38, TCC 35.

3) Speaking of winning rare region titles, no one wants one more than the coaches and kids at Westover, and tonight is a do-or-die game for the Patriots. They’ve never won a title — they’ve only had four winning seasons in school history — but Octavia Jones has turned the program around. These are not the Patriots of old. Jones has his kids believing they can be the first region champs in the school’s history. And there’s nothing like being the first.

They can never take that away from you.

Here’s what it comes down to: The Patriots can’t win the Region 1-AAAA title tonight in Americus, but they can lose it.

The Patriots (2-1 in the region) have to beat Americus-Sumter (2-1) to stay in the hunt, and if they win, they have to hope Americus-Sumter and Monroe both beat Cairo (3-0), which beat Westover earlier. Sure, the Syrupmakers haven’t lost a region game in more than three years, but it could happen. Americus and Monroe are that good this year.

That’s what Westover faces tonight — an Americus team that feels like it can win the region. The Panthers will have to bounce back from a 27-13 loss to Monroe (2-1 in the region) and they know that to have any hope of winning the title, they have to beat Westover tonight at home and Cairo next week — also at home. The Panthers’ season comes down to the next eight days.

But former offensive coordinator Chris Wade, who took over the team in turmoil after head coach Michael Pollock was first suspended and then fired last week, has an offense that can score with anyone. QB Bryce Benton, tailback Wesley Fields and Jonathan Thomas, who does just about everything for the Panthers, lead the way.

It took an inspirational effort by Monroe’s defense to beat the Panthers last week. The way Monroe is playing of late, the Tornadoes look good enough to win the region title and more. Remember how Monroe came on strong last year to make a run in the playoffs? You get the same feeling about coach Charles Truitt’s kids this year.

But if Monroe and Westover both run the table, Westover wins the region because the Patriots knocked off Monroe, 17-14, in the region opener. Monroe will be cheering for Americus tonight.

But if Americus beats Westover, then Monroe can win it all without any help from anyone if the Nadas run the table and beat Cairo at Hugh Mills on Nov. 2.

Stay tuned.

Westover, ranked No. 2 in The Herald’s Fab 5 Poll behind unbeaten Lee County, knows its title hopes come down to this game. That’s why I think the Pats win tonight.

Prediction: Westover 24, Americus-Sumter 21.

4) Westwood travels to Valdosta to face its biggest regular-season game in a while. The Wildcats have lost just one game in the last three years, but they will be huge underdogs tonight against Valwood, GISA’s top-ranked Class AA team in the state. Westwood, which won back-to-back state titles in Class A before moving up this season, is ranked No. 3 in AA.

The Wildcats have handled the move to AA better than anyone could have expected. They’re unbeaten in AA and their only loss in three years (they are 32-1 over that stretch) was to AAA power Stratford on the road.

Tonight’s game means a lot more than the Stratford game. The winner of this game will eventually take home the region title and be a No. 1 seed in the playoffs. Valwood is a bigger school, much bigger up front than Westwood and will be a huge (no pun intended) favorite to win tonight, as well as later when the state playoffs get here.

But I’ll take the Westwood Wonders, even in a game where almost no one believes they can win. Ross Worsham believes his kids can, and so do I.

PREDICTION:Westwood 32, Valwood 30.

BEST OF THE REST:

Monroe 42, Dougherty 18

Early County 35, Thomasville 28

Worth County 30, Crisp 27

Bainbridge 21, Hardaway 7

Miller County 21, Terrell County 14

Seminole County 32, Calhoun County 21

Mitchell County 35, Stewart County 14

Cairo 21, Albany High 14

Brooks County 30, Pelham 14

Sherwood 21, SGA 14

Crisp Academy 28, Frederica 21

Southland 28, Pinewood 14

Terrell Academy 21, Brookwood 14

Fullington 21,

Randolph Southern 14