The only question is whether the title will go to Etowah or Lassiter.
Etowah (7-2, 4-2) was the favorite for the championship midway through the season. The Eagles were off to a 6-0 start, while Lassiter (6-3, 5-1) used a narrow victory over Walton to gain some confidence following a loss to Woodstock.
But a lot has changed since.
The Eagles lost to Cherokee and Walton, while the Trojans strung together wins over Milton, Wheeler and Roswell to take over the top spot in the region standings.
Etowah now needs to win tonight to not only get that region title — the program’s fourth since 2006 — but secure a position in the state playoffs. A loss, combined with wins by Cherokee and Milton, would keep the Eagles out of the state playoffs for another year.
Etowah coach Dave Svehla said he team isn’t overwhelmed by all that’s riding on tonight’s game in east Cobb.
“We have talked to our kids about it this week,” he said. “They are competitive athletes for a reason. Competitive people like situations where they need to perform at a high level. That isn’t for everybody. Some people like to play the games that don’t mean a lot, but this one means a lot. We have a good core group of kids that are excited about it and have shown good leadership and would like to keep playing after (tonight).”
While it could be said that Etowah has more to play for, Lassiter coach Jep Irwin doesn’t see it that way. He would like to win what would be just the third region championship of the Trojans’ 32-season history.
“We feel like there is a whole lot to play for,” Irwin said. “To win our fifth game in a row would send us into the playoffs with some momentum, then to win for our seniors and senior night and finish the regular season strong. To finish the season 7-3 after starting 2-3 would be really good for us.”
Both coaches have used the playoff berth that a victory would bring as motivation this week.
“We have a good group of seniors, and when you get to this point in the year, you have got kids that don’t want to stop playing,” Svehla said. “They come to the realization that, every time they step on the field, it could be the last time ever for the rest of their life. They are having the kind of the season where they don’t want that to end. I don’t know that they feel pressure. I just think they feel motivated.”
The situation is a bit different for Lassiter, which is assured a home playoff game next week, regardless of what happens tonight. The worst the Trojans can finish is second in the region standings.
Svehla expects Lassiter’s defense to blitz often and bring constant pressure.
“They are an active, active defense,” he said.
To that end, Etowah needs to stay composed on offense, which is where Svehla hopes the senior leaders come in.
Irwin said what makes Etowah dangerous is the way it can control the ball with its running game. Not only that, but the Eagles’ defense is challenging for opposing running backs.
“They are a big, strong, physical team,” Irwin said. “We are not the biggest team, so we are going to have to play really well to be able to move the football upfront.”