All No. 6 Heard County (9-0, 7-0 Region 5-AA) needs to do is win for the title, while the Red Devils (8-1, 6-1) not only need to win, but have to win by at least seven points to claim the crown and the No. 1 Class AA state playoff seed. A Bowdon win would create a three-way tie between it, the Braves and Manchester, as each team would have one region loss. The tie-breaker is points allowed against each other.
If the Red Devils lose — or win by less than seven points — they will fall to the No. 3 seed, with Heard County winning the championship and Manchester taking the second seed. A Bowdon win by seven or more gives them the title, pushes the Braves to the second seed and makes Manchester the third seed. That being said, a lot of Region 5-AA eyes will be on Warren P. Sewell Field this evening.
“The whole fact that you’re playing a Game 10 with such significance is exciting for high school football. We’re all excited. I’m sure Bowdon and their community is excited, our community is excited. I think it’s going to be an awfully neat atmosphere in the stadium. And the significance of the game, there’s a lot on the line,” Heard County coach Tim Barron said.
For a young Bowdon team, it’s not only the importance of a regular-season finale, but what it has been through to get to this point.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a game this late in the season that so much is riding on it. It’s a very important game for both squads and both communities. I can’t say enough about our team to get into this position. They’ve played well all season and we’re proud of what we have accomplished. Hopefully, we can show up and make a good showing [Friday] night,” Bowdon coach Dwight Hochstetler said.
The focus for the Red Devils will be trying to slow down a Heard County offense that has scored at least 40 points in eight of its nine games this season, scoring more than 50 points in each of its last three wins. While the Braves’ offensive attack might not be able to be completely stopped, it has to be slowed down.
“I don’t know if there is a key. I think they’re averaging about 47 points and are No. 2 in AA ball, as far as points. They got the total package. They’ve got two or three scat backs, a veteran quarterback, they’ve got a big, veteran offensive line. They’re going to be hard to slow down. Our goal is to not give up any big plays and bend, but not totally break,” Hochstetler said.
While the Braves have plenty on the line, they also have a chance to only be the second team in school history to make it through the 10-game regular season without a blemish on their record. Heard County went 10-0 in the regular season in 2006, finishing the year at 11-1 with a second-round loss in the Class AA playoffs.
“I think in the kids’ mind, especially the senior class, they have a chance to put a stamp on our program forever that can never be taken away. We did it back in 2006. That was the first team that ever went undefeated in the regular season. They have the chance to put their class right up there with that one,” Barron said.
A rather young, but veteran Heard County squad will have plenty to deal with from the Red Devils, too. The Bowdon skill is young, but behind a veteran line has been able to put up some numbers of its own. Bowdon is averaging 36 points a game this season.
“They’re real good up front on both sides of the ball. We knew that coming in that they were returning those guys. Watching Austin Bradley up front and Saeje [Brown], they get after you. They play hard and they play football like old-school type guys that play snap to whistle. Skill-wise, going into the season we thought, before we saw Bowdon, that they lost a lot of their skill from last year. Then you pop in the film and you think, ‘Holy cow. It’s like they never missed a beat.’ Awfully good in skill positions. Their backs run hard, the quarterback is elusive, they hit the hole so hard and execute so well. It’s a dang good football team we’re about to play,” Barron said.
Knowing his team not only has to win, but has to do it by at least seven points won’t change how Hochstetler approaches the game, but it could alter some decisions down the stretch.
“Not right off the bat. Our goal is to try to win the game, and hopefully it’s seven or more. It may come into play late, depending on the circumstances. I hope it doesn’t, but it could,” Hochstetler said.
With so much on the line, what could be lost is two teams that are only about 30 minutes apart are back in the same region again. Overall, the two schools have met 19 times, with Bowdon leading, 13-6. It will be the first region clash since the Red Devils won 34-0 in 2003 while competing in Region 5-A.
“When we got to Heard County in 2002, we were in the same region with Bowdon, Bremen and Temple. It was community. Since that region broke up, we haven’t had that atmosphere that we missed. Every Friday night — no matter how good a team was doing, what kind of year they were having — it was a good crowd. That’s neat to have that back to play in that atmosphere with Bremen back in, Temple in and Bowdon. It makes for exciting Friday nights,” Barron said.