VALDOSTA -- This is the way homecoming should be celebrated.

While most schools treat their fans with a cupcake of an opponent for the homecoming game, Clinch County fans will watch their Panthers take on Turner County tonight in a battle for the Region 1-A title.

Both the Panthers (7-1 overall, 4-0 in 1-A) and the Rebels (4-3, 3-0) still have a shot at the title. A Clinch County victory tonight would end all speculation.

The fact that a game with such meaning coincides with homecoming is a happy accident, but it could be an extra boost of motivation for the Panthers.

"It's the biggest game in the region all year," Clinch County head coach Jim Dickerson said. "My preaching this week has been to stay focused."

Clinch County has dominated region competition this season, especially on defense, but Turner County hasn't had a big win since the first week of region competition.

The Rebels downed Seminole County 33-7 to open the region slate, but they've slipped by Lanier County and Pelham with six-point wins over the last two weeks.

Still, Dickerson isn't underestimating the Rebels, who had 1-9 campaigns in 2003 and 2002, but are now on the rise under head coach Erik Soliday, winner of two state championships at Americus.

"They started the season out not real good," Dickerson said. "But they're learning and understanding the system and they're getting better and better every week. And Soliday is one of the best offensive minds in Georgia high school football."

Dickerson said the Rebels split time with two quarterbacks and feature a diverse offense that can switch from a power run formation to a five-wide receiver set without missing a beat.

"It's a big challenge to our defense," Dickerson said. "They do so much offensively, we need to have the right personnel on the field, lined up right, or they'll attack your weakness. The big matchup is definitely going to be their offense and our defense."

Don't expect the Panthers, who didn't hit full stride until the second quarter in last week's win against Lanier County, to come out flat. At least not if Dickerson can help it.

"It took us a little while to get our legs underneath us," he said, "but we learned a lesson about how anything can happen, regardless of who you're playing. I think we'll be excited and fired up this week."



Miller Co. at Lanier Co.

It's also homecoming at Lanier County, where the Bulldogs (2-5, 1-2) will host Miller County (4-3, 2-2), a 28-14 winner over Seminole County last week.

The victory was the first time in six games that the Pirates had scored more than 14 points and only the second time this season they have held an opponent to less than that total.

The Bulldogs, who still have a shot at a winning record in region play, will need to eliminate mistakes like those that sank early momentum established in last week's loss at Clinch County.

"I felt like we came out last week and played a good defensive game," Lanier County head coach Daniel McFather said. "But special teams really hurt us and we dug a hole. We just couldn't get any rhythm on offense, which is to Clinch's credit."

Lanier County held the lead halfway through the first quarter and a 7-7 tie at the end of that quarter before the game slipped out of reach.

"We've got to build on that defensive effort and keep playing better," McFather said. "We'll try to take that to our game against Miller County, because they basically do the same things on offense that Clinch does and that will be a plus for us."

The Bulldogs will have some lineup changes this week, the most important which will come at quarterback. Chris McCutchin will start at tailback, but will also take some snaps under center.

As a team in the hunt for a playoff spot -- and perhaps even the chance to host a postseason game -- the Bulldogs will need to be sharp over the final stretch.

"I told the kids that a lot of teams are finished at this point," McFather said. "But we're in the thick of things, so every game will be like a playoff now. It's a goal we feel like we can attain."

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