The Jaguars have already proven their critics wrong. Having locked up at least ninth place as they enter Friday's home game with Villa Rica, they can finish as high as sixth if everything falls into place.
"It's a pride thing for our program and a pride thing for our kids right now," New Manchester head coach Rob Cleveland said. "Regardless of the outcome of the last two games, we're going to finish at worst No. 9. Our goal right now is to finish sixth in the region and give us some momentum going into the off-season."
To have a chance at finishing sixth, the Jags will obviously have to win Friday's game with the Wildcats (3-4, 3-4 Region 5-AAAAA) and then finish off the year by beating Hiram on Nov. 9.
Cleveland and Villa Rica are no strangers. Before taking the reins at New Manchester last year, Cleveland was the Wildcats' head coach from 2006-2010. His father, Howard Cleveland, was Villa Rica's head coach from 1969-1971.
Since he was at Villa Rica just a few years ago, Cleveland comes into the game with first-hand knowledge of some of the players he'll be facing. He said the Wildcats will have an advantage at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
"I coached those kids, I know what they've got up front," Cleveland said. "They're a little more mature than us at this point."
New Manchester (2-6, 2-6 Region 5-AAAAA) will try to battle Villa Rica's size and strength advantage on the line with speed in the backfield. The Jags have seven different backs who can take it to the house. Omahri Jarrett will start at left wing, Malik Thomas will start at Z-back and Ryan Santos will start at fullback.
C.J. McPherson will alternate series with Santos at fullback, Darius Meabon will get some time at Z-back when Thomas needs a break and Ronnie Hall and Michael Green will see time at left wing.
"We'll have to run the ball inside to keep them honest," Cleveland said. "But at the same time we're going to have to try to hit the corners to give ourselves a chance to put points on the board."
Villa Rica is coming off a 38-7 loss to Allatoona. Running back Jaylen Cox scored the Wildcats' only touchdown against the Bucs. Cox and QB Kevin Martin have been Villa Rica's main offensive weapons.
New Manchester, meanwhile, had a bye last week. The previous week, the Jags led South Paulding 7-3 through three quarters only to let one get away in a 24-13 loss.
"We've just run out of gas against the better teams because the weight room tells on you in the fourth quarter," Cleveland said.