CONYERS - There's no doubt about it: The playoffs start this week for both Salem and Cedars Shoals.
The Seminoles (3-3) travel to Athens to take on the Jaguars (3-4) on Friday in what amounts to an elimination game in Region 8-AAAA with both teams trailing the top four teams in the region.
Salem is tied with Rockdale for fifth, just one game behind 4-2 Loganville. Cedar Shoals sits in seventh, only a half game behind Rockdale and Salem.
The Seminoles are coming off a heartbreaking 23-20 loss in the final minute to Clarke Central, while the Jaguars fell to Rockdale 14-0.
The importance of Friday's clash isn't lost on Salem coach Chad Estes.
"No doubt about it, if we expect to go to the playoffs, we need to start winning football games," he said. "Region 8-AAAA seems very balanced this year. That means every week the games are going to be close and competitive."
Estes also knows one more thing about Friday's game - recent history says it's going to be close.
Last year, the Seminoles beat the Jaguars 21-20 in Conyers when Brandon Hill blocked an extra point in overtime.
"Yes, I expect a close game," Estes said. "Since I have been at Salem, the Cedar-Salem games have always been close, competitive games. Offensively, it boils down to turnovers and penalties. On defense, we can't give up the big play. I think our special teams could give us an advantage."
Another thing that points to a close game is both team's point production this year. Salem is averaging 22 points a game while giving up 19 points per contest. Cedar Shoals averages 16 points a game and gives up 18.
On offense, Estes expects to see an aggressive Cedar Shoals defense.
"They are going to put eight men up in the box to stop the run," he said. "We need to eliminate the negative plays on offense."
Winning the battle in trenches will also be a key for the Salem defense.
"We can't let them run the football. They will show a lot of different formations, but, in the end, they want to run the ball," Estes said. "I think they are a typical Cedar Shoals team with new wrinkles like the jet sweep out of lots of formations."
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: If you go
· Who: Salem Seminoles (3-3) at Cedar Shoals Jaguars (3-4)
· Where: The Jungle, Athens
· When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
· Last week: Salem lost to Clarke Central 23-20, Cedar Shoals lost at Rockdale 14-0
· Series: Cedar Shoals leads 4-3
· Last year: Salem won 21-20