Football might have lost a little bit of its fun on a cool, rainy Tuesday afternoon as coaching staffs at Midland Valley and South Aiken weighed their options. With one of the biggest games of the season looming Friday, the teams could either call off a full day of on-field practice and spend the afternoon indoors watching film or brave the elements to practice on a soggy, muddy, slippery field that could result in injuries and illnesses.
But in the back of their minds, Friday night was only three days away.
"This is what coaches live for," South Aiken coach Robert Wrightenberry said. "If you can't get excited about this Friday, there's something wrong with you."
The two Region 5-AAA opponents will square off at South Aiken with everything on the line Friday night. With identical region records, they will see their postseason fate decided on the final game of the regular season.
The advantage for the winner is two-fold. The region's No. 2 seed will come with a victory, which means a postseason matchup with Region 6-AAA's third-place team. The winner will also get the privilege of playing at home in the first round of the Class AAA state playoffs.
"If you think about it, it's thousands of dollars on the line," Midland Valley coach Rick Knight said. "You lose, and you have to pay for a bus and travel and meals (in the first round of the playoffs). At home, you split the gate (in the playoffs) but the booster club gets concessions."
The loser will hit the road next week as an underdog against the Region 6-AAA two-seed, either Camden (7-2) or Marlboro County (9-0).
"You've got both advantages there, but I still think the big advantage is playing at home," Wrightenberry said. "Anytime you get to play at your own place, especially in the playoffs, that's what you shoot for."
The numbers back up the home-field advantage for both teams. Wrightenberry said South Aiken has never played host to a state playoff game. The Thoroughbreds are 1-7 on the road in postseason play since 2000. Midland Valley, 4-4 at home in the playoffs over the past eight years, is 0-3 on the road in that same time span.
But before the two teams can think about postseason play, they'll have to get past Friday's showdown.
At Midland Valley, the concern is at quarterback where starter Marquett Carr missed last week's game because of an injured shoulder. His status for Friday's game was still up in the air as of Tuesday afternoon.
"It's the same injury (Oklahoma quarterback) Sam Bradford has, but mine's a grade lower than his," Carr said after last week's game. "I think I should be able to play. We'll see."
Knight said he's keeping all options open. Carr's dual-threat status as a passer (607 yards and five touchdowns in eight games) and a runner (530 yards, eight touchdowns) won't be duplicated by backups Cole Cromer and Shaquille Hightower, which means the offensive load will once again shift to senior tailback Jeremy Robinson if Carr can't play.
"Defensively, we've got to stop (Robinson). He may be the biggest running back we've faced all year," Wrightenberry said.
Then there's Midland Valley's defense, which has carried the Mustangs in 2009. Linebacker Cordes Pressley leads the area in tackles. The unit's most impressive performance came at Silver Bluff, where the Region 5-AA champion failed to score a touchdown against the Mustangs.
"The defense is going to be key for us," Knight said.
"(South Aiken is) huge on the offensive line ... and they've been successful throwing the ball. We've got to be ready for anything."
Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.