While Etowah (7-1, 4-1) has already assured itself a spot in the state playoffs, it’s still playing for a region title. Wins tonight against Walton and next week at Lassiter would make the Eagles a region champ for the first time since 2010.
As for Walton (4-4, 3-2), it needs to win tonight and next week against Roswell in order to help itself out of a logjam for third place.
All of the region implications have led to a playoff atmosphere in the locker room of both teams.
“They are all playoff games now,” Walton coach Rocky Hidalgo said.
Hidalgo’s counterpart at Etowah, Dave Svehla, said his team is also preparing as though tonight was a playoff game.
“This is a big game for us, and it would have been a big game no matter the outcome of last week,” Svehla said. “It’s interesting how the region plays down. We played six games — some are region and others are non-region. Then, we have our two county games, which are more for pride, but also have region implications. Then, we have the final stretch of the season with those last two games where we are playing two very, very good football teams, which obviously has playoff implications.”
The football hasn’t bounced Walton’s way too many times this season — both literally and figuratively. The Raiders have struggled to force turnovers on defense, while ending up on the losing end of some unfortunate plays.
“It’s been a crazy year for us this year,” Hidalgo said. “We haven’t gotten any turnovers when we are on defense, and we just haven’t had a lot of luck. We have to be able to go and create those big plays and hopefully create some turnovers to help us win some games against good teams.”
But that doesn’t mean Walton isn’t a solid team. Each of its four loses have come by eight points or fewer.
With a few Division I-bound players — including Louisiana Tech-bound quarterback Price Wilson and highly recruited safety D.J. Smith — it can’t be argued that the Raiders lack talent. Rather it’s consistency that’s missing.
“I think we have played some good football, but we have struggled with consistency at times this year,” Hidalgo said. “That has really been or Achilles’ heel. When we play good, I think we are really good. We just have to keep preaching a consistent energy level over 48 minutes, and if we can do that, I think we can win some ballgames.”
Svehla certainly isn’t fooled by the Raiders’ 4-4 record.
“Walton is a good football team,” Svehla said. “Their defense swarms to the football very, very well and they’ve got some outstanding athletes on both sides of the ball. They’ve got a quarterback who can run and sling it around, and great receivers. They have just had some close games that they came up on the wrong end of, but they are a very good football team.”
To that end, Svehla said his team needs to make Walton work for every yard and not give up big plays. The Eagles know they will face pressure from the Raiders’ defense as well.
“Our kids have just got to be prepared and try not to have negative plays, and when we do, move on to the next down,” Svehla said. “Our kids know the importance of this game. We don’t have to tell them. We don’t tell them. I don’t want them focused (on the playoff implications). We want them focused on execution.”