Pivotal gets thrown around loosely in sports.
Every win has its pivotal plays. Every loss has the same. Every team its pivotal players. Every season its pivotal games.
Often the word is apt. When Mill Creek travels to Peachtree Ridge tonight for the team's fourth region game of the season, pivotal, victim to its overuse, fails to convey the proper importance.
At 1-2 in Region 7-AAAAA, Mill Creek teeters on the edge of the playoff contention, though its two losses are to 7-AAAAA's top two teams from the past two years, North Gwinnett and Norcross.
At 3-0 in the region, Peachtree Ridge controls its fate, but still must play the region's top teams.
For both teams, this moment offers the opportunity to help secure a postseason spot.
"This game is an extremely important football game for our team," Peachtree Ridge coach Bill Ballard said. "It is a real pivotal ball game for us. I hope our kids realize that. We have told them."
In Hoschton, Hawks' coach Shannon Jarvis wants to narrow this game's scope to tonight. Instead of making it a game of season-long significance, he wants to make it a game of four quarters of focus.
"We don't want to change our routine and make the game bigger than itself," Jarvis said. "We have to keep the focus on this game and scheme and play the way we want to play. We know our backs are against the wall.
"Our greatest challenge is going to be Peachtree Ridge."
The desperate feeling is not unique to Mill Creek.
"We are kind of in a must-win situation, even at 3-0," Ballard said.
The schedule makes this a crossroads for the teams. Tonight is a chance to pick up a win and hand a loss to a challenger for one of the four playoff spots.
With North and Norcross and a surprising Collins Hill team joining Peachtree Ridge and Mill Creek, the region is top heavy and only so much cream can rise high enough to keep playing.
"We are just fighting for a spot," Jarvis said.
A fight is what both coaches expect. Despite a shutout to Norcross, Mill Creek is averaging 23.8 points per game, including a scoring 30 points on Central Gwinnett and 42 on Duluth. The Hawks also put up 24 on North Gwinnett their loss.
"I hope we don't have to call a timeout to slow them down," Ballard said of the Hawks' offense. "It's a tall order."
Peachtree Ridge's offense keeps improving despite its youth, exploding for more than 20 points in its last three games after scoring a total of 10 in its first two.
"We have got to definitely come out playing well in this game to pick up some momentum," Ballard said. "Hopefully we can be close in this game in the end."
"I think it is going to be a great game," Jarvis said.
And its effects may last beyond tonight.
SideBar: MILL CREEK AT PEACHTREE RIDGE
Mill Creek Hawks (7-AAAAA)
Coach: Shannon Jarvis
Record: 3-2, 1-2 region
Last week: Had a bye
Peachtree Ridge Lions (7-AAAAA)
Coach: Bill Ballard
Record: 3-2, 3-0 region
Last week: Had a bye
When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Mill Creek won 17-10 last year
Directions to Peachtree Ridge High School: From I-85, take the Old Peachtree Road exit and go west. School is roughly two miles ahead on the right.
2007: Mill Creek 17, Peachtree Ridge 10
2006: Peachtree Ridge 21, Mill Creek 13