More than bragging rights on the line in Barrow battle

Neighborhood rivalries produce plenty of excitement no matter what the records of the two teams involved -- even teams with just a combined three wins at this stage in the season like Apalachee and Winder-Barrow.

And such will be the case when the 3-5 Wildcats travel to W. Clair Harris Stadium tonight at 7:30 to take on the Bulldoggs, who are 0-8 on the season.

"No doubt, it you weigh all this in, this is a week we haven't had to get our guys motivated," Winder-Barrow coach David Wagner said. "Our senior class hasn't beaten (Apalachee), and it's something they want to accomplish before they leave."

But there is a lot more incentive for both teams in tonight's clash than just neighborhood bragging rights.

Having recovered from a frustrating 0-4 start in which all four losses came by an average of just six points, Apalachee has won three of its last four games to keep their state playoff hopes alive.

And that factor is what head coach Shane Davis says his Wildcats will be most focused on.

"We still have a chance," Davis said. "I'm not trying to downplay the rivalry, but ... our goal has always been to find a way to get into the playoffs. And I'm real proud of the kids. We really have played a lot better, really, the last five weeks."

Indeed, in the last five weeks, the Wildcats have perfected the formula of Apalachee football that has produced winning seasons and postseason berths in four of the last five seasons.

The Wildcats' four-headed rushing monster of Stanley Williams, Zay Henry, Eric Tanner and Clint Ashe has combined to help the team average 249.5 yards on the ground per game, while a defense led by linebackers Chris Morris (51 tackles) and Austin Goley (64 tackles) that has held opponents to 22 of fewer points in five of the last six games.

"No doubt, they are a thousand times better than whatever any record says they are," Wagner said of Apalachee. "Their line does a great job getting off their blocks. Their defense does a great job of gang tackling. We've just got to keep the ball out of their hands because if (the Wildcats' offense gets) on the field, they can go the distance."

Likewise, Davis sees Winder-Barrow as being much more competitive than its winless record suggests.

And the Bulldoggs' do boast one of the area's top rushers in Jamonte Riden, who has produced 833 yards and eight touchdowns this season, as well as several strong individual defensive players like Al Schotter (85.5 combined tackles and assists and 3.5 sacks) and Robby Lotspeich (55 tackles).

"They've got two guys on the offensive side, Riden and (Chad) Platt, who can run as good as anyone in the region," Davis said. "They definitely pose problems, so we've got to try to make them run side to side.

"The thing with (Winder-Barrow) is, their problems seem to come in spurts. If some of those things don't happen, they're in a dogfight every week."

Wagner says Davis has a good eye for film. While the end result of many of their games have been lopsided, much of the damage has come in quick bursts after the Bulldoggs have stayed toe-to-toe with an opponent.

Eliminating those bursts is something Wagner is hoping his team can eliminate tonight, though he admits, it's been a struggle to keep them from snowballing.

"Two weeks ago, we had a couple of interceptions, and Loganville got a couple of quick scores to break that game open," Wagner said. "Then last week, we had a couple of key penalties at the wrong time against Salem, and they took advantage.

"I think Coach Davis hit the nail on the head. He's seen on film what we've experienced all year. When adversity happens, we've got to find a way to turn the tide back in our favor quickly."