Gordon Central pregame

Gordon Central runs onto the field prior to a game earlier this season. The Warriors will host Pepperell in their 7-AA opener on Friday. (Frank Crowe, For the Calhoun Times)

The warm-ups are over for Gordon Central. This week is when the games that matter most begins.

The Warriors will open Region 7-AA play on Friday when they host Pepperell at 7:30 p.m. at Ratner Stadium. Gordon Central (1-2) is looking to continue to show improvement after two wins in the region this year as they try to take another step toward contending for a playoff spot in Year 2 under head coach Cory Nix.

They will enter the matchup well rested after getting an off week last week following three non-region contests to open the season. Nix said it was a productive and successful week for multiple reasons.

“Last week was good for us because we were able to get back to fundamentals and have a little extra prep for Pepperell,” said Nix. “Another big thing is we were able to give the kids two days off to give their bodies a little rest and get a chance to focus on their academics more. We got in everything we wanted to last week, and we feel like we are ready and prepared to start region play.”

The Warriors will host a Pepperell team that looks a lot different from last year’s 8-4 region runners-up that advanced to the second round of the state playoffs. The Dragons (1-2) lost a ton of starters on both sides of the ball to graduation following last season so they are very young and that has shown in their first three non-region games, including their first win last Friday at Heritage-Catoosa.

Even with their youth, Nix said his team is expecting a talented and disciplined opponent on Friday night.

“I expect them to be pretty young after losing so many starters last season, but they are still very good at doing what they want to do on the field,” said Nix. “Defensively, they are multiple but will probably play more 3-4. On that side of the ball, their nose guard is a standout. They like to slant a good bit and are sound and run to the ball. They play really hard.

“Offensively, they are a spread team. They have success with screen passes to running backs and receivers. (Chris Barner) is a tough runner inside, and they will try to get (Camron Miles) touches on the outside. Their quarterback (Gage Moses) is also a good player, he’s just young and starting for the first time. He can make some plays in different ways too.”

The Warriors have some confidence that carried over from their win two weeks ago at Gilmer by a 44-15 score. They were led on offense by a strong night on the ground from both Nelson Gravitt and Cam Pierce, who accounted for more than 150 yards and five touchdowns combined. They will also get starting tight end and defensive end Dawson Lackey back this week after he missed some time a couple weeks ago with an injury.

Nix said the Warriors’ fans should be excited and ready to bring a tremendous atmosphere to the table on Friday.

“It’s very important to have a great atmosphere,” said Nix. “It’s also alumni night so we want folks to show up and show their support in the stands. And we obviously want to play our best game at home and protect our home turf. I think us being at home and coming off a bye last week is two big plusses going into this game.”

Gordon Central has lost all four meetings against Pepperell all-time, including a 43-0 loss last year in Lindale. Nix said there are keys his team needs to get accomplished in all three phases in order to have success against the Dragons on Friday.

“We’ve got to be able to move the ball and take care of the ball on offense,” said Nix. “Our offensive line play will be huge. We need to get a good push up front and be physical all night. Defensively, we have to stop the run and make them pass it. I think if we do that, we’ll get them out of their comfort zone. And on special teams, we’ve got to play a clean game. We had some big returns in our win against Gilmer so we need to make some more of those kinds of plays in special teams and not have any mistakes.”