OCILLA -- While there are no official Region 2-AA football playoffs, tomorrow night's game between the Irwin County Indians and the Brantley Count Herons is essentially a league playoff game.
Fitzgerald is all but set at No.1, Charlton will come in at No. 2 and Appling will get the No. 3 spot. The Indians-Herons winner will get the No. 4 slot.
Irwin coach Jute Wilson is confident his team realizes the importance of the Brantley contest.
"I think the team is focused and ready for the challenge. They are smart enough to know the stakes. We pretty much knew how the region would shake up two weeks ago with our loss to Charlton, and we knew a playoff spot would come down to us and Brantley," said Wilson.
The Indians would not be in this spot if they had come up on the other end of a recent loss to Appling.
"The 10-7 loss to Appling really hurt, but we have too much at hand to spend time reflecting on the past. We are counting on our defense to show up and play as they have all year and supplement it with a solid offensive performance and sound special teams," said Wilson.
Brantley will come into the game with a 6-2 record, while Irwin is 5-3. Both teams are 3-2 in the league standings.
The Herons' two losses have been to region foes Appling and Fitzgerald, while the Indians have been beaten by Appling, Charlton and Tift County.
Brantley senior tight end Eric Johns has received notice from several colleges for his play over the past few years. In a recent game against Fitzgerald, Johns had four catches for 47 yards and a touchdown.
The Heron quarterback is Steven Prevatte, who is one of the leading passers in the region. The top rusher is P.J. McMillin.
Besides having to win to get fourth in the region, tomorrow night's game will also be the last for the Irwin seniors at home.
"We've talked about this being senior night and their last home game, etc. We are 7-1 in our last eight home games in our stadium. I'm not sure how much it 'sinks in' to a 17-year-old until later, but I am not concerned with the effort our kids will put out, they have played hard all year and all of them want to win. It is going to come down to the execution of our offensive and defensive game plans," said Wilson.
One thing that should help Irwin's chances is that a number of injured players should be back in uniform against Brantley.
"The other day I was looking back at some of the preseason media coverage. I talked a lot about needing to be injury-free this year. I guess I didn't 'knock on wood', because we haven't been at full strength since the first game of the season against Turner. We are still waiting on the return of running back Pat Mathis (who was injured against Turner). Tight end Mark Young and Wallace Mizell, who is our quarterback and free safety, have both been hampered all year with injuries. Neither of them played last Friday, but we hope to get them back this week," Wilson said.
After the Brantley game, the Indians will close out the regular season against Fitzgerald. Several people have already brought that game up with Wilson, since it is Irwin's oldest rival.
"All everyone wants to talk about is the Irwin-Fitz game, but we are focused on Brantley this week. We'll work on Fitzgerald next week," Wilson said.
He added, "we've seen them quite a few times on tape this year and they are as good as advertised. But, as far as region standings and playoff spots go, the Fitzgerald game is irrelevant. We will take it one week at a time, and we know the Brantley game is essentially a playoff game."
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