Bainbridge running back and Herald Dynamite Dozen selection Terry Lewis (33) gets ready to take a handoff during practice. Lewis will be a big part of the Bearcats’ offense tonight when they face Early County.
GAME OF THE WEEK
WHO: Herald No. 2 Bainbridge at No. 4 Early County.
WHAT: First showdown of the season between two Herald Fab 5 Teams.
WHEN: 8 p.m. today.
LIVE SCORING UPDATES: Log onto twitter.com/AlbHeraldsports.
BLAKELY — Bainbridge coach Ed Pilcher calls it another rivalry game with a neighbor, but for Early County tonight’s showdown with Bainbridge could mean more than that.
The Bobcats are gaining attention across Georgia as one of the best Class AA teams in the state, and a win tonight against Class AAAAA Bainbridge would just add fuel to the argument that this could be Early County’s year.
Bainbridge (1-1) has its own ideas about winning the Region 1-AAAAA title and making a deep run in the playoffs with a group of seniors who have been waiting since eighth grade to make their mark on the program.
Pilcher and just about everyone else in Bainbridge was talking about this group when they were just eighth-graders, and 14 of those kids are now seniors, who returned this year from a team that went 8-2 before losing to state power Ware County, 21-14, in the first round of the state playoffs last season.
Bainbridge wants to get back to the playoffs and more this season.
The Herald No. 2 Bearcats lost to Florida state power East Gadsden, which was ranked fifth in the Florida Class AAAAA state poll when the season started, in its opener but came back and won its biggest rivalry game last week, beating Cairo, 17-14, when Daniel Provence kicked a 30-yard field goal with four seconds left in the game.
Herald No. 4 Early County’s players and fans remember Provence. He kicked three field goals (23, 38 and 42) in last year’s game to help Bainbridge beat Early, 16-12, in the opening game of the season. Provence’s 42-yarder gave the Bearcats a 16-12 lead with 4:12 left in the game, and Bainbridge stopped the Bobcats, who faced a fourth-and-30 with 2:12 left. Early County QB Jacori Taylor hit Tracy Smith with a 26-yard pass, just short of the first down.
Taylor, a Herald Dynamite Dozen selection this year, has already had two big games to help Early jump out to a 2-0 record, and has been nominated twice for The Herald’s Player of the Week award.
Taylor completed 6-of-11 passes for 188 yards and two TDs, and rushed for 40 yards on opening night in Early’s 55-20 win against Seminole County, and he completed 19-of-30 passes for 287 yards and three TDs and ran for 77 yards last week in Early’s 21-6 win against Miller County. He’s on pace to throw for more than 2,300 yards and 25 touchdowns this season.
“They’ve got a real good quarterback at Early County,’’ Pilcher said. “They’re pretty good and it should be a good game.’’
The sky is the limit for Early County, which moved into the No. 9 spot in the Georgia Sports Writer’s Class AA state poll this week, garnering votes from writers in and out of Southwest Georgia.
The Bobcats, who were 4-6 last year, haven’t had a winning season since they went 8-3 in 2007, but this could be their best year since they were a state powerhouse from 2001 through 2003 when Early went 37-5 and played in the state title game (2001), the state semifinal game (2002) and the state quarterfinals (2003).
Early’s biggest problem is the Bobcats play in what is arguably the toughest Class AA region in the state. Four of the teams in Region 1-AA are ranked in the state’s Top 10. No. 2 Brooks County, No. 3 Fitzgerald and No. 4 Cook all play in Region 1-AA with Early County.
That’s why coach Trey Woolf likes to schedule tough non-region games to get his kids ready for the grind that is coming later.
Bainbridge and Early have become friendly rivals over the years, two programs that respect each other and always look forward to this game. Bainbridge holds an 11-3 edge in the rivalry and has won the last four in a row, but the past two games have both been close. Bainbridge won 14-7 two years ago, and 16-12 last year.
Those games were close and everyone expects more of the same tonight.