VALDOSTA -- What does Winnersville mean for the folks at Valdosta? A lot, really.
It means, for one thing, a chance to finish the regular season 10-0, and do it with a win over their archrivals.
Another thing it means is a chance for revenge. The past two years, Lowndes has won the game, and while they may deny that it is that big of a deal, certainly Valdosta is ready to regain the unofficial title of best team in town. Valdosta still leads the series between the two teams, 30-8.
But even then, there's something a little more. This is Lowndes, this is the team from across town. This is for bragging rights.
The Wildcats go all out every practice (when they don't they get an earful from a disapproving coach). But subtly, there was a little extra intensity Wednesday, as the big game drew another day closer.
The Wildcats are taking this game as seriously as any game they've played this year. They understand what's on the line, and since most of them have been following Valdosta football for almost all of their lives, they understand what the Lowndes game means.
"I think these kids understand," O'Brien said. "It's a bigger deal for the fans than it is for us, but they still want to win."
O'Brien would like to portray this as just another game. But both he and opposing coach Milt Miller know it's more than that.
"In some ways it is (like any other game), because we've got to come out and execute like we're capable," O'Brien said. "But the fans get into it, and the kids get into it a little more."
In other words, the atmosphere should be a little more intense that it was for the Lee County game.
It has seemed to be this week in practice. When the Wildcats ran sprints at the end of practice Wednesday, no one had to be reprimanded for going half-speed. In fact, receiver James Gatlin, reserve quarterback Cedric Hatten and running back Will Petersen lined up separately and raced each other, going full speed in a race of three of the fastest players on the Valdosta team.
O'Brien and Miller have each had to field calls from outside media, such as the Associated Press and the Georgia Times-Union, doing stories on the game.
Also, Winnersville game t-shirts are being sold at Wal-Mart, with a logo split in half between Valdosta's black and gold and Lowndes' crimson and silver. Shirts aren't sold for the Lee County game.
And if nothing else indicates that this is a bigger game, look in the parking lot at Valdosta.
Several cars, belonging to Wildcat players, had graffiti on them, wishing good luck, and telling them to beat Lowndes. The windows of a purple Ford Escort were covered with sayings like "Region champs; we got this here," and "All the way to state! 'Cats, uh-huh."
Again, cars don't get written on when it's the Lee County game.
The cars may spell out Valdosta's desire to beat Lowndes, and the fans may let on how much they want their team to win. Fans may even be making confident, and sometimes less-than-polite, remarks about the other team. But the Valdosta players have kept mum on the subject, knowing that any comment they make could end up on a bulletin board in the Lowndes locker room.
"We're trying not to do any of that," O'Brien said, still mindful of Coffee's antics before last week's game.
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