By JOEL COLEMAN
This time a year ago, the Ackerman Indians were about to begin their offseason following a season that saw them win just one game.
Fast-forward to the present and Ackerman can claim the Class 2A, Region 2 championship with a win tonight in a 7 p.m. game at Hamilton.
"We're grateful and kind of surprised we're in this position," said Ackerman head coach Adam Dillinger. "We worked hard to get better and we feel fortunate to be in the shape we're in where we get to go and play for a championship. We're going to go out there, do our best and see if we can't win it."
The Indians take records of 7-3 overall and 4-0 in the division over to Monroe County, while the homestanding Lions are an impressive 9-1 overall and 4-0 in the division.
Both teams enter the contest on lengthy winning streaks.
Ackerman has won five in a row after opening the season with just two victories in the first five games.
Hamilton is riding a seven-game winning streak after losing its only game of the season in Kossuth on Sept. 2.
With the Lions surging like they are, Dillinger knows the Indians have quite the obstacle standing in their way of claiming the division crown.
"(Hamilton) has a lot of weapons on offense," said Dillinger. "They run a lot of option and all their backs are good players. Their quarterback is the guy that everything revolves around and he's a dangerous threat. You've got to keep him hemmed up.
"Defensively, they all run to the football and make tackles. They're aggressive and play real hard."
While the winner of tonight's contest will win the Region 2 title, both Ackerman and Hamilton have already clinched the right to host first-round home games when the Class 2A playoffs begin next week.
That doesn't mean the Indians intend to hold anything back tonight however.
"It's time now," said Dillinger immediately following last week's Ackerman win over J.Z. George that helped set up tonight's matchup. "We've got to get ready and try to win it. There's always a big difference between being No. 1 and No. 2 (in the division). We need to go and do what we can to try and finish first.
"You want to win all the championships you can and the region is the first one."
West Oktibbeha (7-2, 5-1)
at Noxapater (6-3, 6-0)
After a critical win over county rival East Oktibbeha last week, West Oktibbeha travels to Noxapater tonight for another big Class A, Region 3 game.
Timberwolves head coach Adam Lowrey knows his team will have plenty of work to do tonight as they try to slow down the Tigers and quarterback Ethan Hamilton.
"(Hamilton) is the leader on the field and he runs the show," said Lowrey. "He's 90 percent of their offense, if not 99 percent of their offense. They have other ballplayers, don't get me wrong, but he's just the signal-caller that makes the ship go. But they all play really well together."
Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.
Nanih Waiya (7-2, 6-0)
at East Oktibbeha (5-4, 3-3)
East Oktibbeha has had a rough go of late, losing its last three games.
Things get no easier for the Titans tonight when they host powerhouse Nanih Waiya in a Class A, Region 3 matchup at 7 p.m.
"They're tough," said East Oktibbeha head coach Randy Brooks of the Warriors. "Their running backs run hard and their line blocks well.
"Now's not a good time to have the number of injuries that we have going into the game."
Brooks says he has four players that are now out for the year with injuries, making a difficult period for East Oktibbeha even harder.
"It really hurts because each one of those kids plays about three different positions," said Brooks.
Still, Brooks says his club will press on, despite all the recent problems.
"We're just trying to be finishers and have a winning season," said Brooks.