By JOEL COLEMAN
The Class 2A football playoffs don't start until next week.
In Eupora head coach Junior Graham's mind, the postseason begins tonight.
As Graham's Eagles (5-4 overall, 2-2 in Region 2-2A) get ready to host rival East Webster (5-5 overall, 2-2 in Region 2-2A) tonight at 7 p.m., county bragging rights and playoff seeding is on the line, giving credence to the significance Eupora's leader has placed on the matchup.
"This being the last (regular season) game, we try to get our kids to approach it like a playoff," said Graham. "The only difference in this game and the playoffs is if you lose this one, you've still got another week out there."
It's that next week that makes tonight's game so vitally important for both teams. Whichever squad leaves Eupora with a win tonight will enter the playoffs as the No. 3 seed from Region 2, while the loser will be saddled with the No. 4 seed.
That means tonight's victor will square off with the Region 4 runner-up in the first round of the playoffs next week rather than that division's champion.
"You sure want to finish third (in the division) if you can," said East Webster head coach Doug Wilson. "But we're just trying to take this one game at the time. We know we've got a tough challenge ahead of us, but our kids are fired up, excited and ready."
With plenty at stake in the contest, Wilson says he and his staff try and make sure the Wolverines keep their eyes on the task at hand.
Though the path through the playoffs could be considered slightly easier with a win tonight, Wilson says none of that matters just yet.
"We don't talk about those scenarios of what happens if we win or what happens if we lose," said Wilson. "We're just focused on (tonight)."
Wilson's counterpart has a similar strategy.
Graham says there's not much that can be done about future weeks, so it's best to prepare for right now.
"We've been working on what we do," said Graham. "That's generally how we approach every game. We try to get better at what Eupora does."
Still, Graham and the Eagles are doing their best to be ready for all the Wolverines have to offer, something that Graham admits hasn't been easy, especially in gearing up for East Webster's offense.
"It's hard to gauge what (East Webster) is going to do offensively because they've done so many different things this year," said Graham. "They go from being a Maryland-I team to a straight-T team to a team that throws every down. So it's been a difficult week for us as far as preparation and gauging and guessing what they're going to do."
Wilson has little doubt that his competition will have things all figured out by tonight.
"Anytime you're playing Coach Graham's team, they'll be ready and prepared, so we have to be ready," said Wilson.
Wilson doesn't think being ready will be a problem for either squad come kickoff time tonight. If anyone does have trouble getting amped up to play, East Webster's leader says that individual should probably look for some other way to spend free time.
"We've been telling the kids all week, if you can't get ready for this game, you don't need to be playing football," said Wilson.