CONYERS - A win is just a win, right?
On Friday in Athens, it could very well be more. Much more.
For one team - Clarke Central (3-1) - a win will put the Gladiators in the driver's seat in Region 8-AAAA. For the other team - Heritage (2-2) - a victory will certainly keep the Patriots in the playoff hunt.
On paper, both teams look eerily similar.
The Patriots are averaging 29.3 points per game, while the Gladiators are averaging 24.5.
Defensively, Clarke Central has the edge, limiting opponents to 16 points per game compared to Heritage's 18.
Heritage is coming off perhaps its biggest win of the year, a 51-13 trampling of Winder-Barrow. The Patriots racked up 305 total offensive yards while limiting the Bulldoggs to just 36.
"They are very athletic," Clarke Central coach Leroy Ryals said. "They will be tough to block because they will fly to the ball on defense. On offense, quarterback (Garry Peters) is good. They have plenty of athletes to light up the scoreboard."
Heritage running backs Khairi Nash and Devon Holmes each scored two touchdowns in the win over Winder-Barrow.
"We have a number of kids who can make big plays, and that is a good feeling," Heritage coach Chad Frazier said. "Also, we try to spread the ball around to each of them throughout the game so defenses cannot key on any one guy."
In addition, in each of the last three games, the Patriots have recorded a safety.
"(It was) maybe a little bit of a statement game in the fact that we believe we are much better than our 2-2 record," Frazier said of the win over Winder-Barrow. "We'll need to play a complete game this week against a very good Clarke Central team."
A complete game means cutting down on penalities and turnovers. Against the Bulldoggs, Heritage had five turnovers and six penalties, including two personal fouls, for 60 yards.
"So far this week in practice, the penalty situation has not improved. Therefore, we have doubled the consequences following a penalty," Frazier said. "The turnovers have been an improvement this week."
Meanwhile, the Gladiators could easily be 4-0 at this point. Their only loss came against Loganville in overtime during the season-opener 29-28.
Nevertheless, it lit a fire among them, sparking a three-game winning streak. Their most recent win came against Apalachee last week 21-0.
Concerning Frazier are two things - speed and offense.
"They have a quarterback (who) is elusive and can create big plays," Frazier said. "Defensively, they have good size up front and two safeties who can fill quickly. We'll need to be balanced enough to try and keep those safeties back."
According to Ryals, there has been no secret to his team's recent success.
"We are just trying to play hard and have been fortunate at times," he said. "(Against Heritage) we have got to be consistent. We must play all three phases of the game well and hope to be around in the fourth quarter."
Since 2002, Heritage and Clarke Central have a 3-3 record against each other, proving that on Friday, there is more at stake than just another win.
Jason Murdock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: If you go
Who: Heritage at Clarke Central
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Clarke Central High School, Athens
Last week: Heritage beat Winder-Barrow 51-13; Clarke Central beat Apalachee 21-0