ATHENS - Just over the midway point of the season and Clarke Central is the only squad with the clear lead.
The Salem Seminoles (3-2) hope to change this when they travel to Athens tonight looking for their fourth straight win.
"We are going to have to play great defense against Clarke Central," Salem coach Chad Estes said. "They have put up a lot of points this year. We need to control the ball on offense and score points."
This season Clarke Central (5-1) is averaging 27.7 points per game. In addition, the Gladiators are averaging 316.5 yards of offense in six games.
Still, being first in region comes with its share of disadvantages.
"We're not comfortable at all (with being on top)," Clarke Central coach Leroy Ryals said. "It's just the middle of the season and there is a lot of football left. It's anybody's region to win."
Thanks to a strong defense and sound running game that has led to three consecutive wins, Salem has become the talk of the town after losing its first two.
"It's not a big secret," Estes said of the two ingredients. "Our region is very balanced, (and) you have to come ready to play every Friday."
On the ground, Corey Nedd has paced the Seminoles. During the past three games, Nedd has rushed for a combined 228 yards on 56 carries (4.1 yards per carry).
"I don't know if we can slow them down," Ryals said. "They are very big and athletic. They don't really have a glaring weakness. We just have to try to limit mistakes and play great special teams; field position will be huge."
In five games, Salem is averaging 12.4 points per game. Defensively, the Seminoles are allowing 13.6 points per game.
"Their defensive line is tremendously big and quick," Ryals said. "We are very young up front, and it will definitely be a challenge to block them. Offensively, they do what they do well. We will have to play a complete game to beat them."
Reggie Battle leads Clarke Central with 394 rushing yards on 76 carries. His partner in the backfield, quarterback John Wilson, has tallied 363 yards on 74 rushes, including nine touchdowns.
In the air, Wilson has passed for 858 yards, including seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
Defensively, the Gladiators are allowing 19.8 points per game. Devonte Derricote leads the team with 62 total tackles, including 3.5 sacks.
"It is a very talented region with a lot of parity. You have to be ready to play each and every week or you will get beat," Ryals said. "Even if you are ready, you may still get beat, so I guess it's pretty exciting for the fans."
Jason Murdock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.