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By JOEL COLEMAN
Though the annual gridiron battle between West Oktibbeha and East Oktibbeha needs no extra incentives, this year's game has just that.
When the Titans and Timberwolves hook up for a 7 p.m. game tonight in Maben, both teams are trying to fight their way into the Class A playoffs, the road to which becomes much easier for whichever squad can pull out a critical victory.
"It's a county battle with a trophy on the line and playoff implications for both teams," said West Oktibbeha head coach Adam Lowrey. "We're all looking for an exciting game of football."
Entering tonight's matchup, West Oktibbeha currently finds itself in a slightly better position than its cross-county rival.
The Timberwolves (6-2 overall, 4-1 in Class A, Region 3) are already a game ahead of the Titans for the fourth spot in the division and could push that margin to a full two games with a win.
Thus East Oktibbeha (5-3 overall, 3-2 in Class A, Region 3) understands it would be of great benefit to upend the Timberwolves for the first time since 2006.
"We're playing for our playoff lives," said Titans head coach Randy Brooks.
Brooks and his team find itself in this current situation after struggling in recent weeks.
While East Oktibbeha won its first three district games of the year, the Titans have now dropped two in a row.
"We haven't been doing some things as well as I'd like," said Brooks. "I'd like for us to especially do a better job of tackling. That's one thing we haven't been doing well the last couple of weeks. Hopefully, we'll have that corrected this week."
If the Titans struggle in any aspect of their game, Brooks knows his team could find trouble against a West Oktibbeha team that arguably boasts the edge in experience.
Lowrey says his club's experience advantage could pay dividends tonight.
"I believe it helps a lot," said Lowrey. "You're talking about a small school that's not used to playing in front of large crowds. When they do, sometimes it can be kind of like a deer in headlights. With guys that have been there before, it helps."
Ultimately however, both coaches realize the game will come down to what happens on the field.
According to Brooks, the action will most likely follow a familiar script.
"It's going to be no great secret what each team will do," said Brooks. "We'll have to play good, sound defense, which is what East Oktibbeha has been known for.
"It'll be our good, sound defense against their explosive passing game."
J.Z. George (0-9, 0-3)
at Ackerman (6-3, 3-0)
Some teams may have trouble maintaining intensity for a game against a winless opponent.
That's simply not the case for Ackerman however according to head coach Adam Dillinger, whose team hosts struggling J.Z. George in a Class 2A, Region 2 battle tonight at 7 p.m.
"George has given us fits in the past," said Dillinger. "They've always played us well and beat us last year. We've always had our hands full with them so it's been pretty easy for us to keep focused."
A determined Ackerman team could be more bad news for J.Z. George who has been dominated repeatedly of late.
The Jaguars haven't scored a point since Sept. 9, and have been outscored 204-0 in their last five games.
Hamilton (8-1, 3-0)
at East Webster (5-4, 2-1)
Riding high after two straight division wins, East Webster hosts Hamilton tonight at 7 p.m. in Class 2A, Region 2 action.
Despite all of the positives the Wolverines have experienced over the course of the last two weeks, East Webster head coach Doug Wilson knows his team must bring their best effort to upend the Lions.
"It's going to be a big challenge for sure," said Wilson. "(Hamilton) is definitely one of the toughest teams in our district, among many, and they're coming in with a lot of momentum. They have loads and loads of talent with skill players and big, physical linemen. This is going to be a tough one."
The game features the two best defenses in the region in terms of points allowed per game.
While Hamilton leads the district, giving up just 13 points per game on average, East Webster isn't far behind, with an average of 14.9 points allowed per contest.
Williams-Sullivan (0-9, 0-3)
at Eupora (4-4, 1-2)
Following a tough loss in Ackerman last Friday, Eupora looks to get rolling again tonight at 7 p.m. when they host Williams-Sullivan in a Class 2A, Region 2 contest.
With the heartbreaking loss to the Indians in the past, Eagles head coach Junior Graham says his team is determined to press ahead.
"That's about all we can do," said Graham. "One thing about losing, it exposes a lot of things. Our kids came out though and had a really spirited week of practice and they were focused. They understand there's a lot of football still to be played."
Eupora will try to bounce back against a Williams-Sullivan team that has given up more points than any team in all of Class 2A.
The Yellow Jackets have allowed 460 points this season, an average of more than 51 points per game.