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'Playoff atmosphere'

Westover, Crisp ready for region showdown

Westover running back Shannon Saunders looks for an opening during the Patriots’ win two weeks ago against Cairo. Saunders and the Patriots will try to stay undefeated in Region 1-AAAA with a victory tonight at Hugh Mills Stadium against Crisp County. (Staff photo: John Millikan)

Westover running back Shannon Saunders looks for an opening during the Patriots’ win two weeks ago against Cairo. Saunders and the Patriots will try to stay undefeated in Region 1-AAAA with a victory tonight at Hugh Mills Stadium against Crisp County. (Staff photo: John Millikan)

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Crisp County’s Brandon Dowdell carries the ball for the Cougars, who are 1-1 in Region 1-AAAA and could put themselves right in the thick of the region title race with a win tonight against Westover. (Submitted photo: Alicia Campbell)

ALBANY — Westover and Crisp County are halfway through their 2013 high school football schedules.

After tonight’s game, both have four region games left.

And the state football playoffs don’t begin until Nov. 16.

But Crisp County coach Lee Campbell expects a “playoff atmosphere” when his Herald No. 5 Cougars meet No. 3 Westover tonight at Hugh Mills Stadium. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.

“It’s a big game,” Campbell said. “I’ve told our guys that from here on out, every game is a playoff-type game for us. To me, every game in the region is a playoff game.”

Westover leads the Region 1-AAAA standings with a 2-0 mark, already having beaten preseason region favorite Cairo and Monroe, a playoff team the past two seasons.

Crisp County, meanwhile, lost to Cairo in its region opener before beating Dougherty two weeks ago. The Cougars haven’t been to the postseason since 2010. Campbell is in his third season and understands the ramifications an upset of Westover could have on the Region 1-AAAA standings.

Westover coach Octavia Jones is impressed with the Cougars. Despite Crisp’s 3-2 record, he knows their losses were to state powers Valdosta High and Cairo.

“Crisp County is a very good ball club,” Jones said. “We saw them on film play Valdosta hard and also play Cairo very hard. We know they are going to play us hard.”

Both schools were off last week, and Jones said it gave his Patriots time to heal some injuries and correct several mistakes from the first half of the season.

It also gave Westover another week to celebrate its 14-9 victory over Cairo, perhaps the biggest victory in school history.

Jones expects his offense to be severely tested tonight.

“Defense is the strength of their team,” he said. “You look in their two losses. I think they allowed Valdosta only two first-half touchdowns and they were up 6-3 on Cairo in the third quarter. They have a nose guard (Elijah Johnson) who does a great job of disrupting opposing team’s offenses. He gives them an opportunity to change a lot of schemes.”

Campbell said there is a still a lot of football left and the four playoff representatives may not be decided until the final week of the season.

Campbell knows beating Westover would put the Cougars in excellent position to be one of the four. The third-year coach built Hawkinsville into a state power before taking over in Cordele, so he’s used to making annual appearances in the postseason. He would love to end the Cougars’ mild postseason drought.

“Our offense has got to help our defense out,” he said. “And on defense, our tackling must get better. We stunt a lot defensively and we’ve had some plays look like they may go for a loss, but then because we’re not tackling well, it goes from a loss to a first down run.”

Jones has urged his team to remain focused.

“I expect our guys to fight hard,” he said. “This is a big game for them as well. We just have to make sure we execute on both sides of the ball.”

Execution will be critical in the “playoff atmosphere.”