In terms of playoff implications, Friday’s game between LaFayette and Ridgeland doesn’t mean anything as both teams have already been eliminated from post-season contention.
But in terms of pride, it means everything.
The 22nd renewal of the “Walker County Civil War” will take place at Bowers and Painter Field when the Panthers (3-6, 1-5) host the Ramblers (2-7, 0-6) on Senior Night. A chance to end the season on a positive note and a year’s worth of bragging rights will await the winner.
“It’s been a while since we played in a game with no playoff implications, but like we’ve told our guys, you still have to find reasons to play,” Ridgeland head coach Mark Mariakis. “Sure, there is bragging rights and county rivalries and all that, but the main reason is because this is what football players do. They go out and play hard no matter what and that’s what we’ve been talking about this week.
“For the seniors, it’s a chance to go out with a great effort and for the younger kids, it’s a chance to prove something to the coaches and get ready for next year. Hopefully, it will be enough of an effort to get us a win.”
LaFayette head coach Chad Fisher echoed some of those same feelings.
“Obviously, anytime the season is winding down, you want to play your best and this is a chance to go out on a good note,” he explained. “Our season hasn’t gone as we would have hoped, but this is a big game against a county rival and like the old saying goes who really can throw out the records.
“Both teams have struggled some this year with injuries and other things, but here’s a chance to finish strong. It ought to be intense and it ought to be fun.”
It will be a contrast of styles on offense. Ridgeland’s run-heavy offense, led by running backs Caderius Word and Chris Henderson will try and grind out yards and chew up the clock, while LaFayette quarterback Evan Head is approaching 2,000 yards passing on the season, throwing to top targets Kolbe Mosely, Patrick Simmons and Ethan Tripp.
“Man they can put up points,” Mariakis said of the Ramblers. “The quarterback can throw it and spread it around and their offense is based on getting it out of his hands fast and into the hands of a bunch of kids that can catch it and run it. They do a great job.
“Our biggest thing in the past few games as been missed tackles, especially in space, and if we don’t do a better job of that this week, they will light up the scoreboard and it’s not going to be an enjoyable night. Then on offense, we have hang on to the ball because turnovers have killed us lately.”
Likewise, Fisher said slowing down Ridgeland’s ground game provides its own set of challenges.
“They do a great job running the ball and have for a long time now,” he said. “We have to play gap assignments and we’ve got to wrap up. We’ve been in position all year to make tackles and it’s just a matter of getting in position and using good technique.
“They have so many athletes that can hurt you in so many different ways so we have to be at our best.”
Ridgeland leads the all-time series, 11-9 with one tie. The Panthers dominated the series between 2006 and 2012, claiming victory seven straight times. However, that all changed a little more than a year ago.
On a chilly night in south Walker County, LaFayette scored two unanswered touchdowns in the second half and came with two defensive stops in the fourth quarter to celebrate a 32-29 victory over their county rivals.
“I think our kids feel this is a game they belong in,” Fisher added. “We feel we can compete with anyone on our schedule and winning that mental part is half the battle. But Ridgeland is a good team with tradition and they are going to be confident as well.”
“We’ve talked a little about last year, but I think those emotions will be out the window by the second or third series,” Mariakis said. “We have to get the job done no matter who is lined up against us, whether it’s LaFayette or anyone else.”
Kick-off is slated for 7:30 p.m. Ridgeland’s Senior Night activities will precede the kick-off.