Last season, when the Carver High football team marched into Peach County's home stadium, it was the underdog.
Few outside of Carver gave the Tigers much of a chance against the Trojans and their star wide receiver Demarcus Robinson. That notion, of course, was misguided, as Carver came away with a 26-17 win, its first over Peach County in team history, and a region championship.
This year, the roles are reversed and Carver players and coaches are on high alert.
"I don't believe favorites mean anything," Tigers running back Dequindre Coleman said. "Last year, everyone thought (Robinson) was going to make the difference, that he was
going to do the whole job. I think we've got an edge on them, but that doesn't mean everything."
Once again, this game is for all the marbles in Region 2-AAA. Both teams are undefeated in region play with two games left, meaning the winner clinches a region championship and the top seed out of the region in the Class AAA playoffs. Carver, of course, won six consecutive state titles under former coach Dell McGee, and is looking for its first under new coach Joe Kegler.
If not for Peach County's slow start this season, expectations would be that these are two evenly matched teams. Instead, the Trojans lost two of their first three games and nearly dropped a third in a row before hitting their stride to start region play. They have won five in a row, and Kegler stressed the team is as competitive as ever.
"They always have great athletes," he said. "They're well coached. We expect a tough ballgame like last year. Like you said, they started off slow. They were young, but their guys are growing up. They've grown into the Peach County we all know."
Carver began the season with a handful of young starters, as well, particularly at quarterback where sophomore Jawon Pass is running the offense.
It took some time for them to hit their groove, but Kegler said he's seen plenty of progress out of his younger starters. Still, he'll rely on his experience to lead the team into Friday's contest.
"Our seniors are doing a great job leading, letting them know what to expect on the field and with the environment," he said.
One of those seniors, linebacker Tim Whatley, said the best preparation for the younger players has been getting onto the field.
"We just make them feel comfortable and throw them in," he said. "You won't learn nothing if you don't get thrown in."
Take Mekhi Brown, for example. The junior defensive lineman/linebacker turned out to be a major impact player in this game as a sophomore last year, recording two sacks and hurrying the passer on a handful of other occasions.
So, no matter the age or experience, Kegler said it's all hands on deck in a game of this magnitude.
"It's everybody," Kegler said. "The whole team needs to step up."
If they do, the Tigers will be region champs once again. If they don't, the state playoffs will get a whole lot harder.
"Basically, from here out it's win or go home," Kegler said. "We have to treat every week like the playoffs going forward."
David Mitchell, Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ledgerenquirersports.