If Hephzibah has established itself as the team to beat in Region 3-AAAA over these past two seasons, that can still arrive as news to the Rebels.
"We are the new kids on the block," Hephzibah senior receiver Gary Robinson said.
The Rebels are counting on that changing Friday night if they can beat defending region champion Evans. With three games left in the regular season, Hephzibah is the only remaining team unbeaten in the region. They will try and take another step toward their first region title in 55 years of football in a meeting of teams that have won a combined 11 consecutive games in the region.
A Hephzibah win would position the Rebels (6-1, 6-0 Region 3-AAAA) one game ahead of everyone in the region with two weeks to play. A loss, coupled with expected wins by Lakeside and Richmond Academy, would mean all four playoff-bound teams would be tied with two weeks to go.
Evans (6-1, 5-1) has won five in a row since a 17-0 loss to Lakeside to open its region schedule. With Hephzibah's defeat of Lakeside, the Knights can still repeat as champions.
"Until someone else wins the region, they're the champs," Hephzibah coach John Bowen said. "To be the champions, you're going to have to go through them."
Hephzibah lost 21-12 last season even though it outgained Evans 255-125. It allowed a punt return for a TD and 37- and 67-yard touchdowns to running back Jonathan Finch.
"We were in the red zone a lot, we just didn't finish drives off," Robinson said.
Evans coach Marty Jackson said Hephzibah has improved since last year, thanks to its kicking game and defense. The Rebels have kicked five field goals and 22 extra points and allowed only 54 points in seven games.
What's more, Antoine Nabors is averaging more than 25 yards per kick return and Robinson more than 19 yards per punt return.
"This is the best Hephzibah team I've seen in years," Jackson said. "Their kicking game has been critical. Defensively, they look like Lakeside swarming to the ball. ... We're going to have to play our best game of the year."
Hephzibah's 14-13 win over Lakeside was tied 7-7 at the end of regulation and ended when the Rebels stuffed a two-point conversion attempt. Both Jackson and Bowen said this game could be a similar defensive battle.
Hephzibah, however, hopes it has the result wrapped up before the final play this time.
"You'd like them to be a little easier than that, but nothing good comes easy," Bowen said.
Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.