County pride at stake for Wildcats, Bulldoggs

File Photo Apalachee's Zay Henry runs the ball up field before being brought down by a Winder-Barrow defender during the game last season.

File Photo Apalachee's Zay Henry runs the ball up field before being brought down by a Winder-Barrow defender during the game last season.

While Apalachee had its postseason hopes dashed last week and Winder-Barrow has struggled though another tough season, there is still plenty on the line when the Wildcats visit W. Clair Harris Stadium to take on the Bulldoggs tonight at 7:30.

Mainly, it's Barrow County pride.

"It's a big one for both of us," Apalachee coach Shane Davis said. "Things didn't go so well for us (in a 42-0 loss to Heritage) last week, but our guys have got to get over it. The only thing to play for is pride, and we've got to get ourselves back up. ... I don't see why we wouldn't."

While the Wildcats (4-5, 3-4) will have to rebound after seeing their last remaining state playoff hopes disappear with last week's loss, Winder-Barrow can relate to their disappointment.

After all, it took the Bulldoggs (1-8, 1-6) seven weeks into David Wagner's third season as head coach to get him his first win, with their overall losing streak reaching as high as 31 games.

But a win two weeks ago over Cedar Shoals has Wagner, his staff and players sporting a more upbeat mood, even after last week's 38-7 loss to Clarke Central.

"I think we're a lot more competitive now," said Wagner, a former defensive coordinator for Davis at Apalachee before taking the Winder-Barrow job in 2010. "We're playing hard, and we're playing fairly well. Even last week against Clarke, if we don't commit a lot of turnovers, we're in a dogfight with them.

"I told the kids in practice this week, 'If you get this one this week, it will heal a lot of wounds.'"

A key to the Bulldoggs healing those emotional wounds may come from the fact that they've slowly been healing a lot of physical wounds in recent weeks.

With a few exceptions, Winder-Barrow is now close to full strength -- really for the first time all season -- which has allowed playmakers like Chad Platt, Chandon Sullivan and Al Schotter more of an opportunity to make things happen.

"We've not really played even one game with everyone who we thought would be starting for us coming into the season (healthy)," Wagner said. "And we've got two guys who had season-ending injuries (earlier this year). But aside from those two, most of those guys have been able to come back. It's allowed us to do some things we've wanted to do, but we couldn't do."

Apalachee has gotten some key players back from injuries in recent weeks, such as defensive end Cory Hunt.

And with the improvement of the grind-it-out running attack, led by the trio of Eric Tanner, Zay Henry and Monterian Smith, the Wildcats have also seen their fortunes get progressively better throughout the season, last week notwithstanding.

"They're only a few plays away from not only still being inn the playoff hunt, but maybe being a No. 3 seed," Wagner said of Apalachee. "They've got three great running backs and some other great players on defense. Not being in the playoffs in our region doesn't mean you're not a good football team."

Likewise, Davis knows his team will have its hands full with a Winder-Barrow team steadily growing in confidence.

"They're a better football team than in past year, and they're a better football team than they were at the beginning of the season," Davis said of the Bulldoggs. "(Wagner and his staff) have done a great job of keeping them together, and they're playing well right now."