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November 7, 2012

Irwin Indians will try to end 23-year losing streak Friday

1989 was the last year Irwin defeated Charlton Co.

TIFTON — The Charlton County Indians have been a King Kong-sized monkey on the backs of the Irwin County Indians over the years. What was once a series dominated by the Indians has turned into something completely different.

The Indians from Ocilla won the first 15 games in the series. Then Rich McWhorter arrived as head coach in Folkston. The Irwin advantage slowly began trickling away, then it disappeared. Charlton has taken the past 17, leaving Irwin without the taste of sweet victory since 1989.

“It’s a big week,” said Irwin’s coach Jon Lindsey. Then he stopped to clarify himself. “It’s a big Charlton County week.”

“We just gotta go down there and play,” he said, adding that he had not done much talking to his players about the depth of the losing streak.

Knocking their personal King Kong off his perch will require the Indians traveling to his home turf to do it; the game will be played at Indian Field in Folkston, commonly known as The Swamp.

“Our road schedule has been pretty tough,” he said. With a road schedule like Irwin’s it is hard to believe they have had five home games, as seemingly every big game has been played away from their home stadium. Their four road games before this week have been at Fitzgerald, Wilkinson County, Clinch County and Turner County. With the exception of Fitzgerald, they have managed to win all of them.

Irwin still has a chance to capture the Region 2-A championship. A win over Charlton is a necessity, but so is a loss by the Wilcox County Patriots, who snapped the Indians five-game winning streak last week.

“It’s out of our hands,” he said of Wilcox’s game this week.

The Indians’ fate could be in the hands of the Telfair County Trojans. In years past, a win for the Patriots would nearly be a foregone conclusion, but things are different in McRae this year. Though they are likely out of the playoffs, sporting a current power ranking of 20, first year head coach Matt Burleson has managed to turn his team into a genuine contender. Their 6-3 mark is miles away from their past two seasons, which saw them finish 1-9 and 0-10. They have also secured their first winning record since 2006.

Though his own team knocked off Telfair, 55-21, Lindsey is not surprised by their rise.

“They have a lot of kids who can run,” he said, adding that he would not be completely shocked if they did manage to pull off the upset.

The Indians’ own game against Wilcox County turned into a tight one. Wilcox took an early advantage before they came rumbling back, tying it at 14 before the Patriots took the lead again. Another tie at 21 before Wilcox took the lead for good, 28-21. A controversial call on the ensuing kickoff saw the ball return to the Patriots’ control and their chances for an Irwin comeback evaporate.

Lindsey placed the blame on his own squad ahead of any calls.  “Wilcox is by far better than everybody else,” he said. “Ten’s (Makail Grace) a great athlete and we just couldn’t make the tackles.”

The loss to Wilcox knocked Irwin two places down in the power rankings. Last week, the Indians were No. 4,  this week they are No. 6. Region champions will be automatically granted the top eight slots with the rest of the state’s Class A public schools battling for the final eight positions. While his team’s future is completely dependent on the power rankings if they do not win the region, he said this did not bother him. “I actually kind of like the power rankings,” he said.

Even with the future beyond this week unknown, the coach is not giving it much thought yet.

“All I know if we play Charlton County this week,” he said.

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