VALDOSTA -- It sits there on Valdosta High's football schedule, the final game of the Wildcats' regular season.
It lurks as a challenge to the Wildcats, as much as it always has, another game in the teams' long rivalry. Nov. 15's regular season finale will be the next chapter in the history.
Valdosta versus Coffee.
Valdosta versus Coffee? What's wrong with this picture?
For the first time since 1983, Valdosta will not end its season with the Winnersville Classic against Lowndes. That emotionally-draining intra-city tilt will come three weeks earlier, on Oct. 25 at Cleveland Field.
The teams' seasons will end instead with Valdosta playing Coffee -- a team that it's 31-0 lifetime against-- while Lowndes hosts Lee County, whom it has never lost to (they're 2-0).
It will be different, for sure, but for Valdosta head coach Mike O'Brien, it's not that big a deal.
"We've still got to play them," O'Brien said.
"(Having the game at) the end of the year is sometimes bad for going into the playoffs, because it is such an emotional game," O'Brien continued. "Lowndes is going to be a big game, no matter whether it's the first game, last game, or a middle game. They're our crosstown rivals, and we're their big game."
Across town, Lowndes assistant head coach Randy Hill, who has handled many of the head coach's duties since former coach Milt Miller's departure in January, had the same thoughts.
"They're going to be tough, no matter when you play them," Hill said. "First game, second game, last game-- we're still playing them, and we'll still have our work cut out for us. It will be different, though."
The game was switched this year not to change things, but by luck of the draw.
"What a lot of people don't realize is that we've drawn out of a hat for many years, and it's just come up that way," O'Brien continued. "It's not that we didn't want to play them (the last game), or they didn't want to play us. It's just that when we drew, it came out that way."
Winnersville moving to October is the most noticeable change to the schedules, but it's not the only one.
With Ware County and Bainbridge moving down to AAAA, Region 1-AAAAA now has just six teams, meaning both the Wildcats and the Vikings have two more non-region games. One will be a familiar opponent-- both schools will face Ware (Lowndes on Sept. 20, Valdosta on Sept. 27).
Lowndes' non-region schedule will look much different. And it won't be an easy one.
The Vikings added four new non-region teams -- Westside Macon (Aug. 30), Palm Bay (Fla.), McIntosh (Sept. 13) and Camden County (Oct. 4). Westside has been a state semifinalist and quarterfinalist, respectively, the past two years. Palm Bay was state 4A champion in 2000. Camden was ranked in the Top 10 all of last season.
"It's a tough schedule. We don't play any easy teams," Hill said. "Milt had a hard time getting the schedule together. Sometimes it's hard to find teams to play."
Lowndes is actually still looking for a game. Palm Bay has pulled out of its Sept. 6 game with the Vikings due to a scheduling conflict, but the game may be moved to Nov. 8, an off-date for both teams. If not, Lowndes will try to hunt down another opponent.
Valdosta's schedule, on the other hand, contains only one new opponent, Southwest Macon (Sept. 13). Defending Florida state champions Lincoln (Sept. 20) and Madison County (Oct. 11) will come back to Cleveland Field, as will Wayne County. The Wildcats will travel to Ware on Sept. 27, the second straight year they'll go to Waycross.
"Ware was coming here to play Lowndes, and Coach (Dan) Ragle didn't want to make a second trip this year," O'Brien said. "It works out for us to host it next year, since we won't have the Lowndes game here."