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Season on line in Battle of Five Forks

Photo: Kevin Hinton. Brookwood's Andre Sims (21) gets around a North Gwinnett defender during their game earlier this year.

Photo: Kevin Hinton. Brookwood's Andre Sims (21) gets around a North Gwinnett defender during their game earlier this year.

For years, this game seemed to mean everything.

Region titles were on the line. Bragging rights. Once, a state championship.

And now?

The luster of playing for a Class AAAAA trophy may be absent in tonight's Battle of Five Forks, but the importance is at the level of that 2002 state title game.

When Brookwood and Parkview met for those region titles, next week was a certainty. This time, a playoff game only goes to the winner. The loser moves on to basketball season.

"Last year it was for the second spot, this year it's for the last spot," said Parkview head coach Cecil Flowe. "The game has its own backyard brawl character. It's always had meaning, this year it's for a little bigger carrot."

"When you go back through the years lots of people know about who won what years and what the overall record is," said Brookwood head coach Mark Crews. "But when you have been as intimately involved in it as Cecil and I have, you remember plays people made and the people who made them and the momentum swings in the game.

"That is something that goes all the way through the history of the school. It is something that goes for playing in a game like tonight that determines who goes to the playoffs, to playing each other for the state championship."

This year's version is for the season, and both teams are getting better and healthier.

Brookwood running back Julian Suber appears to have finally shaken off nagging injuries that didn't slow him down as he racked up 168 rushing yards and two touchdowns against South Gwinnett and Brookwood has found a playmaker in receiver Andre Sims. The Broncos' defense held the offensive attack to just 17 points in last week's loss.

"They got after it last week," Flowe said. "They played South really tough. We are going to have to play our best."

At Parkview, things are looking better too. Starting quarterback Kalik Barnes returned from a broken jaw and led the Panthers to a 27-21 win over Shiloh to create the win-and-in wrinkle to the annual rivalry game.

"We thought before he got hurt that their quarterback was really mobile and a talented kid and he was kind of the spark to their offense," Crews said. "As luck would have it, he gets ready to come back a week early so he can get a game under his belt to get ready for us."

Flowe and Crews have coached in every version of this game and with the exception of a few seasons, records don't play a role in the results.

"There has not been a game on our schedule that has been easy, but you can throw all the statistical data out the window," Flowe said. "Most of the times you can throw the records out. It's just a rivalry thing."

Except this year, it's more. It's a season-on-the-line thing.

"It's a playoff game. That's what it is, isn't it? When the winner keeps playing and the loser goes home," Crews said.

The rivalry just adds to the meaning.

"It's not a critical or heated thing," Crews said. "Our communities don't hate each other. They just like to beat each other."