Home-field advantage for the first three rounds of the TSSAA playoffs and an easier road to the Blue Cross Clinic Bowl could be the ultimate reward for the winner.
The Associated Press' No. 1-ranked ranked and defending AAA State Champion David Lipscomb Mustangs (8-0) travel into the jungle Friday night to face off with the fourth-ranked Marshall County Tigers in what should be "the game of the year" in 3A.
Crowds are expected to be as big as 3,000 plus for the contest at Preston Hopkins Field and a sea of blue will pack the stadium with the MCHS student body and local fans sporting "Code Blue" T-shirts for the occasion.
"Playoff implications are huge," said MCHS Athletic Director Kevin McGehee. "It has been several years since we met when we were both undefeated."
"The region always seems to come down to us, Lipscomb, and Giles County," McGehee said. "We used to own this region and a win could put us back in the driver's seat."
It has also been several years since the Tigers beat the Mustangs. Lipscomb owns an eight-game winning streak, dating back to 2000 when the Tigers won 21-20.
The Mustangs are also on the upper end of an all-time 11-3 record versus the Tigers.
Between these two prep football powerhouses, belong four state titles and a combined 46 playoff appearances.
A zoom into the actual game magnifies the matchup between the two schools with the Mustangs coming off a huge 31-28 late win over Giles County last week.
The Tigers have been riding high the entire season and have not been seriously tested since week three versus Columbia Central.
The Tigers are healthy again and Lipscomb is hurting at the all-important running back position. The Mustangs' All-State running back Zach Rogers, was injured last week and his status was still uncertain at press time. Their other standout running back, Harrison Daniel was hurt against Goodpasture (knee injury).
For the Tigers, the squad will be back to full strength with the return of receiver Broderick Tears and all-purpose speedster David Tadajewski. Tears and his partner on the outside, Kareem Peterson have combined for 936 yards and 13 touchdown receptions from AAA Mr. Football candidate, quarterback Jake Morris.
A win could cement last year's AAA Mr. Football and Alabama Crimson Tide starter Dont'a Hightower's dream of putting Marshall County High School football back on the map and bring to fruition head coach Don Thomas' turn around of the storied Tiger program.
"With the mentality I have seen from this year's team, I think we have a shot at them (Lipscomb)," said McGehee. "I think we are going to be in good shape."
The Tigers do have a shot -- probably their best shot in quite some time to beat the Mustangs.
The keys to the game for the Tigers will be controlling the football, handing the ball off to Justin Braden, who has 1,015 yards rushing this season and 15 touchdowns.
A balanced attack of Braden and throws to outside should keep the Mustang defense on their heels.
If Marshall County has a weakness, it is on defense.
The Tigers have allowed some lesser opponents to score too many points and must contain Lipscomb's running game. They also have to worry if the game is close and it comes down to a last-second field goal attempt as Lipscomb sports one of the best field goal kickers in the state in Kyle Lehning, who beat the Bobcats last week with 27-yard field goal with just over two minutes to play.
The huge throng of Tiger supporters will have a good weekend again this week as the Tigers improve to 9-0 with a 35-28 win over the Mustangs.