Ed Pilcher's Herald No. 2-ranked Bainbridge Bearcats will try to avoid falling to 0-2 to start the season when they host their biggest rival, Cairo, on Friday night.
BAINBRIDGE — Bainbridge just wants to hang on this week against Cairo — literally.
The Bainbridge-Cairo game is always one of the biggest of the year and by far the best rivalry game of the season for the two schools, but after losing four fumbles in an opening-night loss to Florida state power East Gadsden, Bainbridge coach Ed Pilcher wants his kids to keep the football in their second game of the year.
“We just have to hang onto the ball,’’ said Pilcher, whose Bearcats turned the ball over five times in a 33-14 loss to East Gadsden, the fifth-ranked team in Florida’s Class AAAAA state poll. “We moved the ball pretty good and ran up and down the field, but we had four fumbles and an interception. You are not going to beat good teams doing that.’’
It’s never easy for Bainbridge to beat Cairo.
Well, it’s not easy for anyone to beat the Syrupmakers, who are a powerhouse every year.
Bainbridge won the game last year, 17-14, but Cairo holds the edge in the series, 32-27-4; the series dates back to 1922.
“It’s always a big game when you play Cairo,’’ Pilcher said. “It’s a big game, a big rivalry for both of us. It’s one of those games when everybody gives it their best.’’
This year’s game is at Bainbridge, where there are high expectations for a team that returned 14 starters after going 8-2 and making the state playoffs in 2011.
Bainbridge had originally planned on opening last week against a team from Alabama, but found itself without an opponent late this summer and had to scramble to find one. The Bearcats agreed to play East Gadsden a week before the rest of the GHSA teams opened in Georgia. Bainbridge lost two weeks ago and had a bye week last week, while most of the rest of the teams in Georgia opened the season.
The bye week, however, helped because Bainbridge had to play East Gadsden without its best defensive lineman, Darryl McGee, a returning Albany Herald All-Area player, as well as strong safety Devon Hubbard. Both are both back from minor injuries for the Cairo game.
“We really need to play good defense, and we need defensive linemen because Cairo has an offensive line that comes off the ball and really hammers you,’’ Pilcher said. “And we’ve got to find a way to move the ball against them. They’re pretty stout on defense. They’ve got two big defensive linemen and two great linebackers. Paul Davis is a real good one.’’
Nothing has changed.
“It’s a typical Cairo team,’’ Pilcher said. “They’re fast, and they get after you. We’ve got to find a way to move the ball and not turn it over. That’s the key for us. If we can do that, we’ve got a chance to play against most folks.’’
Pilcher’s veer offense worked against East Gadsden as both of Bainbridge’s runningbacks went over 100 yards. Damian Bouie gained 130 yards and Herald Dynamite Dozen tailback Terry Lewis gained 110 yards. Bainbridge rushed for 280 yards but turned the ball over twice inside the East Gadsden 20.
Bainbridge is still using two junior quarterbacks, but Preston Norris, who ran for a 35-yard TD in the opener, played about 70 percent of the time against East Gadsden. Aaron Callaway also played at quarterback, and Pilcher said he will use both on Friday night.
“They’re getting better,’’ Pilcher said. “That’s the important thing, but we need to win this game. You don’t want to start out the season 0-2, and start having people second guessing.
“It’s a big one,’’ Pilcher added. “Anytime you’re playing your next door neighbor it’s a big one. We’re playing neighbors the next two weeks. We’ve got Early County next week, and they must be loaded. They beat the brakes off Seminole County (55-20). I knew they were going to be good. But we can’t worry about them now. We’ve got to get this one for a confidence builder.’’
WESTOVER FACES BIG TEST VS. JONESBORO: Westover beat Class AAAAAA Tift County, 33-29, to open the season and now faces an even bigger test Friday night at Hugh Mills, where the Patriots face Jonesboro, the No. 9 team in the Class AAAA state poll.
It’s a homecoming for Jonesboro coach De’Timothy Floyd, who was an offensive lineman at Westover and later at Albany State.
“When I called him and asked him for a game, I asked him, ‘Aren’t you glad to have the opportunity to play your alma mater?’ And he said he loved the idea,’’ Westover coach Octavia Jones said. “He was Gung-Ho about it.’’
Jones and Floyd were teammates at Albany State, but they are the head coaches at two different programs. Jones is trying to put Westover, which has had just four winning seasons in its history, on the map, while Floyd’s team has arrived. The Cardinals went 9-2 last year and are looking for an even bigger season this time around.
Two of their players have already committed to SEC schools. Taurean Ferguson, a wide receiver and defensive back, has committed to Vanderbilt, and Cameron Sutton, who does just about everything for Jonesboro, has committed to Tennessee.
“Cameron Sutton plays about every position but center,’’ Jones said. “He’s going to touch the ball every way he can. He’s a wide receiver and a defensive back, and plays the Wildcat. He does it all. He will be one of the most talented athletes we will see this year.’’
Jonesboro, which beat Class AAAAA Mt. Zion, 33-7, to open the season last week, is loaded everywhere. The team’s 7-on-7 team made it to the national finals in Washington D.C. over the summer.
“They have a lot of talent, and their secondary is loaded,’’ Jones said. “It’s a big challenge, but our kids are ready for the challenge. We have some kids we feel are pretty special, too. They’re amped up to play against (Jonesboro). Any time you get an opportunity to play against a top 10 team it’s good for your program. If you want to build a program you want to play against teams like this. We need this to get ready for our region, so we can come out of the region (and get to the playoffs).’’
MONROE REGROUPS: Herald No. 1 Monroe went back to practice this week after losing to Brooks County, 21-18, with seven seconds left on a Hail Mary pass that spoiled the opener for the Tornadoes.
“The kids were upbeat to get back out there to practice,’’ Monroe coach Charles Truitt said. “We have to get ready for Wilcox this week. They sling the ball all over the place and they’ve got some good receivers.’’
Monroe plays on the road again, and Truitt said he would be glad to see Hugh Mills Stadium when his team finally plays a game in Albany on Sept. 15.
“We played our scrimmage against Tift on the road, so this is three weeks in a row on the road,’’ Truitt said. “It will be nice to play a game at home.’’
The good news for the Tornadoes is that after this Friday, six of their last eight games are at Hugh Mills.
Truitt watched the tape of the Hail Mary pass plenty of times and still can’t believe Brooks County pulled off the play.
“We had the play covered,’’ Truitt said. “We had the guy sandwiched. But somehow he got the ball into him.’’
Truitt was more concerned about his team’s play on special teams. The Tornadoes missed two extra point kicks after their first two touchdowns, and then failed on a two-point conversion. Herald Dynamite Dozen quarterback Charles Stafford, who threw for 208 yards and two TDs, is also Monroe’s kicker.
“Charles has been doing a real good job in practice and has been real consistent with his kicks,’’ Truitt said. “He was kicking 30- and 40-yard field goals in practice. He’s been looking good, but it’s something we’re definitely working on this week in practice. We can’t leave any points on the field. We are going to address our special teams and spend most of (today’s) practice working on special teams.’’
MITCHELL COUNTY TRIES TO BOUNCE BACK VS. BIGGEST RIVAL: In one of the best rivalry games of the year Mitchell County faces Pelham Friday night, and for the first time in years, Pelham will be the favorite.
Pelham’s defense held Baconton Charter to just two first downs in a 40-0 opening night win last week while Mitchell’s new offense moved the ball all night in a 36-20 loss to Clinch County.
“We were talking to our coaches at halftime and talked about what adjustments to make on offense,’’ Mitchell County coach Larry Cornelius said. “They were saying we didn’t need to make any because everything we were running is working.’’
Mitchell County lost four fumbles and had 10 penalties for 92 yards.
“We turned the ball over and we had too many drive-killing penalties,’’ Cornelius said. “But we moved the ball all night and averaged almost seven yards a carry.’’
The Eagles, who returned just three starters and started over with a new coach and a new offense (the Wing-T), used seven different players to run the ball and rushed for 245 yards on 36 carries (6.8 yards per carry).
“When you average seven yards a carry that usually represents a win,’’ Cornelius said. “To have brand new kids and see what we accomplished, I feel like we are on the right track. We just have to get in the win column.’’
That won’t be easy in this county-rivalry game against a much improved Pelham team. Mitchell won last year, 46-14, and leads the series, 33-8-1. The Eagles have won the last nine in a row, and 13 of the last 14 meetings. The teams didn’t play between 1980 and 2007, and Pelham hasn’t won since 1976, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association.
“It’s not the Pelham of old,’’ Cornelius said. “I’m very impressed with them, especially their offense. They get after it. It’s going to be a slobber of a game. It’s a natural rivalry, and it’s going to be one of those intense games. You’ve got to have a warm heart and a cool mind in a rivalry game.’’