BRANTLEY COUNTY (6-4) at JEFFERSON COUNTY (7-3), 7:30 p.m.
Brantley County coach Sean Pender knows fantasy football.
His hand-picked team of NFL players get points for their Sunday performances. Those stats go head-to-head against other teams from his coaching staff. Pender's team is 8-0 in pool play this year.
"My first pick was LaDanian Tomlinson," Pender said. "Got the Baltimore defense and Steve Smith, too. I'm doing so well because I tend to go after winners. Guys like Tom Brady."
His football team is living its own fantasy. The Herons (6-4) travel to Jefferson County tonight for a first-round playoff game in the Georgia High School Association's Class AA bracket.
His team was 6-4 at the end of the 2004 and 2005 seasons, too. It was finally good enough to earn a playoff spot in 2006.
"This is the first playoff game for Brantley County High School football," he said. "The school opened in 1970. This is our first, but we will not come up Friday wide-eyed and happy to be there. We've practiced and prepared to win our first playoff game, too."
Jefferson County coach J.B. Arnold knows the feeling. His Warriors have never won a playoff game. He's made that milestone a 2006 goal since a 12-7 home loss to Mary Persons in the first round of the playoffs last year.
This is the seventh playoff trip in 12 seasons. Jefferson County (7-3) has made the playoffs the past five seasons and have seemingly exhausted every avenue of letting that first playoff win slip through their hands.
"We've lost in every way imaginable," Arnold said. "Offensive struggle. Defensive struggle. We've got stopped inside the 5 with less than a minute to go. We've had teams score on us late. We've committed turnovers. We've had teams score on us on fourth down late."
But Arnold has downplayed that during practices this week.
"I've kept things they way they've been all year," he said. "I didn't crank up the volume because this is playoff week. I just want the kids to focus and forget the extras. I want them to throw all that out the window and just focus on doing their own jobs."
The timing seems right. The team won its second consecutive region title this year. That was a program first, too.
"Brantley County is a scrappy bunch," Arnold said. "They've got a couple of real fine players we're going to have to keep in check. But the main thing on my mind is my team. I'm more worried about them. If we play well, we can win. If we don't, we open up the chance to lose. If we can play our best then that win, lose or draw stuff will all take care of itself."
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