While playing for different stakes, the rivalry between Lakeside and Evans takes center stage tonight.
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Panthers (6-2, 4-1 Region 2-AAAAA) are battling to earn a home game in the first round of the Georgia Class AAAAA playoffs, while the Knights are trying to finish their season on a high note.
No matter what happens between the two schools that are separated by less than four miles, the winner will walk away holding the unofficial title of Columbia County champion. Both have previously beaten Greenbrier and Grovetown.
“It’s really important for us to beat them and it’s one step closer to that home playoff game,” Lakeside defensive end Kendall White said Wednesday. “You know it’s going to be a heated rivalry even though our records are different. Every rivalry game you’re going to get the best your opponent has to give you.”
A 20-9 loss to Houston County last week knocked the Knights (4-4, 2-3) out of playoff contention, so now they’ve set their sights on winning the county crown.
“We’re not the only team that has had to reset goals this time of the year,” Evans coach Marty Jackson said. “We’re going to try to win the county championship. It’s a good opportunity for us. Lakeside’s a great team, but I think we’re pretty solid, too.”
From 2002 to 2008, the Knights dominated the rivalry, going 6-1. But the tide turned in 2009, as the Panthers have won the past four contests, three by shutout.
The teams are similar defensively, allowing 19 points per game. The Panthers, however, can pressure teams with their fast-paced offense (33 points per game) and their above-average special teams play. The have returned four kickoffs and a punt for touchdowns.
Lakeside quarterback Hunter Banks expects a tough game and thinks the turnover battle is one of the keys to the game.
“I need to take care of the ball and make sure other people are taking care of the ball and not turning it over and giving them good field position,” Banks said. “Make them earn everything.”
A Lakeside win over Evans and one the following week at home against Warner Robins would give the Panthers a first-round home playoff game, but the Knights hope to derail those plans.
“The season hasn’t gone according to what we planned, but we’re going to stay strong,” Evans’ K’Lon Lovett said.
“We still plan on beating Lakeside, getting a great team win and doing something that we haven’t done in a long time.”