CONYERS - Despite both Rockdale and Monroe Area officially out of the playoff race, there is still much to play for come Friday night.
After winning their first three games of the season, the Bulldogs (4-5 overall) hit a snag losing five of their last six. Mathematically, Rockdale is out of postseason play; however, it does not mean a win Friday isn't crucial.
"We want to finish this week and we're going to play hard," Rockdale coach Michael Etheridge said. "Our main goal is to win the ball game. Hopefully, a win Friday will give us a good kickoff into the offseason."
On the other hand, Monroe Area (0-9) needs a victory just as bad, if not more, to end the season on a positive note - something to build on for 2009. The Purple Hurricanes have yet to win a single game.
"It has been the most frustrating season in my 16 years as a head coach," Monroe Area coach Matthew Fligg said. "I knew Class AAAA would be tough, but we are a small team, little in size. We were in our first five games until the end, and that has hurt us. After we played so poorly against Winder-Barrow, our kids were very down."
Although Monroe Area has already had its homecoming, Friday is homecoming for Fligg. He used to be the head football coach and athletic director at Rockdale.
"Beating anybody our last game would mean a lot to us," Fligg said. "Rockdale happens to be our last game. My happiest days of coaching and being athletic director were at Rockdale County High School. I had a great principal named Kathy Garber, great coaches and we won. I loved my days in Bulldog Country. Being in Reid Stadium Friday night will bring back fond memories."
But a fond memory could easily be put on the back burner. The Hurricanes are scoring just 8.4 points per game, while opponents are scoring 32.3 points against them.
"It will be weird walking the sidelines Friday night on the visitors' side, and I just hope my kids will come out ready to play," Fligg said. "We are always excited and prepared; we just don't have a solid football team this year. When you coach as long as I have, it happens. It doesn't feel good."
Losing six offensive starters due to injury - four in the last two games alone - have not made things easier for Monroe Area.
"Rockdale scored a lot earlier in the year, and I know they feel like they have a chance to have a big offensive production night against our young defense," Fligg said. "We must stop their Wing-T spread, and they can really fly. Containing them is also the key and not giving up the big play. (Our) offense must not have a turnover and drive the ball to keep Rockdale off the field."
Monroe Area has committed 31 turnovers in its last five games, an average of 6.2 per game.
Last week in a 40-12 loss to Heritage, Monroe Area turned the ball over six times, leading to four scores (two touchdowns, one safety and one field goal). On the ground, the Hurricanes ran for just 13 yards on 28 carries.
Interestingly enough, besides the game against Cedar Shoals, Monroe Area has scored first every time this season.
"They just haven't been able to finish it," Etheridge said. "They're not bad athletically. We've got to be ready to play, if not, they could slip up on us."
Overall, the Bulldogs offense is scoring 17 points per game. Defensively, they are allowing 15 points per game.
But it's not like Rockdale has been getting blown out. Four of its losses are by a combined 18 points.
"It's hard, but it's a lot better losing close than losing by a bunch," Etheridge said. "We figure right now we're four plays away from being 8-1. Each game we were about one play away from being able to finish."
Jason Murdock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: Monroe Area at Rockdale
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Reid Stadium
Records: Monroe Area Hurricanes (0-9); Rockdale Bulldogs (4-5)
Series: Monroe Area leads 6-4
Last meeting: Rockdale won 18-6 in 1983