This is what you play for
It's hard to believe the final week of the regular season is here.
The 2016 prep football season has been a very successful campaign for all three Marshall County schools so far, but much is still at stake when they take to the gridiron Friday night.
The undefeated and second-ranked Forrest Rockets (9-0, 6-0) are currently in first place in Region 4/2A and will be seeking their first unblemished regular season since 1980 when they make the long trek to second place Jackson County (7-2, 5-1) with the region title on the line.
"We really haven't talked about it (undefeated season) a lot," Forrest coach Brent Johns said. "We have talked more about the importance of winning the game to secure the No. 1 seed in the region."
The Rockets made easy work of Eagleville after a slow start last week, putting together a solid all-around effort in a 39-14 win.
"It was a good win against a region rival," Johns said. "I think they exposed some weaknesses that have made us a better team this week."
Although Forrest did not incur any new injuries last week they did lose freshman Nick McClendon, who be out of the game after being flagged for two unsportsmanlike penalties at Eagleville.
"It's better prepared us for Jackson County because he's been on the scout team on both sides of the ball in practice all week," Johns said. "Our O-line has had to account for his blitzes each day and the defense has had to stop him running and catching the ball."
Johns and his staff have been hard at work all season, but especially this week as they prepare for the long road in only the second meeting between the two programs.
"We are in complete playoff mode as a team and staff," Johns said.
The Rockets pounded Jackson County 42-0 at Chapel Hill last year, but this year's Blue Devil squad is much improved and would like nothing more than to spoil Forrest's chance at perfection on its home turf.
"They are also playing for a school record eight wins," Johns stated. "But, we will treat it the same as all big games---play great defense, take the ball away from them, run the ball effectively and minimize turnovers."
With a win, Forrest would secure home field advantage for the playoffs, something the first-year Rockets' head coach wants desperately.
"I think our home crowd, DJ Andy Burkett and the student section gives us the biggest home field advantage in 2A," Johns said.
Forrest has not done well with long trips the past two seasons, but Johns and his staff have a plan to change that around and it will pay off in a huge 35-7 win over the Blue Devils.
The fourth-ranked Marshall County Tigers (8-1, 4-0) enter the final week of the season in beast mode, outscoring its last three opponents by a whopping 132-28, including a 39-16 win over previously ranked Maplewood at Lewisburg last Friday night.
"We were really happy with our total team effort against an extremely talented Maplewood," MCHS coach Thomas Osteen said. "Defensively I thought we played one of our most complete games of the year.
The Tigers also came out the game healthy, a facet that is one of the most important factors in advancing deep into the post-season.
"I feel like we are healthier than we have been at various points the last month," Osteen stated. "Hopefully we will be getting back offensive tackle Dave Roberts in some form or fashion this week."
A win at Page (6-2, 4-0) would secure the second consecutive Region 4/4A title for the Tigers, who beat the Patriots 42-24 in last year's regular season finale to clinch the region crown.
"I'm thrilled for the second consecutive year our program has put itself in a position to play in a region championship game," Osteen said. "Page is coached well and plays extremely hard across the board. It will take a great effort at their place to give us a chance to win in the fourth quarter."
This is the last meeting in the long-standing rivalry between the two schools as region opponents as the Patriots will move up to Class 5A next year.
"I hope to continue our rivalry with Page with a non-region game in the future if both of schedules work out," Osteen stated.
Ready to go
There is no reason to expect any more than a tremendous effort from the Tigers, who are battled tested, in playoff mode and ready to go Friday night at Rudderville.
"We must handle the adversity of playing at their place and the emotions that Page will play with to start the game," Osteen said. "I feel that we have gotten better each week and have challenged ourselves against some solid opponents. Page will be no different and we can always throw the records out when Page and Marshall County get together."
Osteen talked about what the Tigers have to do to bring home the back-to-back region titles to Lewisburg Friday night, saying, "We must protect the football and establish the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and defensively we must make them earn every yard and not give up any big plays.
Page lost 21-14 to Forrest earlier in the year at home and the Tigers will make it 2-0, Marshall County schools when they come away with a lopsided 42-20 win.
Three weeks ago, Cornersville stood at 4-2 and seemingly in control of a sure playoff spot until three consecutive losses muddied the waters in Frog Bottom.
The Bulldogs have not played that poorly in any of those matchups, including last week's 37-26 loss at Fayetteville.
"We are ready to get back on the field," Cornersville coach Gerard Randolph said. "Last Friday night left a bad taste in our mouth. Looking back we had several opportunities to make plays defensively and we did not do that."
Randolph has done a tremendous job at Cornersville (4-5, 4-3) this season and likes the team's leadership and its ability to bounce back.
"The guys have been up beat and enthusiastic during the week," Randolph said. "The game of football really means something to this group and they want to be successful. We are going to continue to work hard each and every time we get the opportunity to get on the field."
Their playoff future all comes down to a win Friday night at Richland (1-8, 0-7) or loss by Huntland at Columbia Academy.
"We have had a great week of preparation for the Richland game," Randolph stated. "Definitely, this will be a good old fashioned rivalry game at its best and anybody that has been a part of this rivalry can attest to that."
"Our guys know what is at stake on Friday night, win and we are in the state playoffs as this has been a goal for our team the past two seasons. I would love to see this young group be able to achieve this goal."
In the last three games, the Bulldogs are on the high end of the all-important turnover battle 5-2, but big plays of 25 yards or more have resulted in five touchdowns, something Randolph knows the defense must fix this week versus the Raiders.
"The last couple of weeks we have not eliminated the big play and in order for us to win this week that will have to happen," Randolph said. "Richland has some talented guys on their sideline in Caleb Briggs (WR), Latrell Daily (WR) and Gus McGowan (WR), so we will have to know where they are at during the course of the game."
"Offensively, we have to continue to be disciplined and not turn the ball over," the coach added. "We need to be able to move the chains and score in the red zone. If we can do these things, we give ourselves a chance to win the game."
Cornersville won't need any help from Columbia Academy as they take care of their own business in a 40-6 win.