NASHVILLE -- Cook and Berrien County still call each other rivals.
And while the two schools remain close in distance and possess an uncomfortable familiarity with one another, something has been missing recently. The competitiveness between the two has fizzled as Berrien seniors haven't sniffed a victory against Cook in years.
"They're a great rival right next door," first-year Berrien coach Mike Hill said. "But here lately, it's been all Cook. We're looking forward to re-igniting this rivalry."
Cook and Berrien meet today at 7:30 p.m. in Adel.
The Rebels will probably settle for keeping it close. They've practically been beat the moment they stepped on the field, losing the past three years by a combined score of 149-15. Berrien broke a 20-game region losing streak by taking down Mitchell-Baker last week, but the Hornets have won five straight after losing their first two games of the season.
"We have to play hard and be mistake free," Hill said. "Any mistakes at all, and they'll take advantage of it."
Even that might not be enough for the Rebels (4-3, 1-2 in 1-AA). Tailback Jermale Hines is a game-time decision, but unlikely to play. The sophomore was a catalyst in last week's win, carrying the ball 21 times for 158 yards and two scores in a little more than three quarters. However, he left early in the fourth with an injured left knee.
While Berrien won't be looking past its rival, the realistic picture has the Rebels gunning for wins in their final two games of the season. A week off should have Hines healthy enough for those two contests against Albany and Brooks County, which are a combined 1-9 overall and 0-4 in the region.
If Berrien can get to 3-3 in 1-AA, then the Rebels, 6-24 in the previous three seasons, should be headed to the playoffs.
"I realize that but I want the kids to focus on one game at a time," Hill said.
The Hornets (5-2, 3-0 in 1-AA) have bigger plans. A quarterfinalist in coach George Dean's first season, Cook is angling for playoff positioning. This week against Berrien and next Friday's bye will be the Hornets' preparation as they gear up for Thomasville and Early County to close the season. Both teams are undefeated in the region, and 4-1 overall, but haven't played as many games as Cook.
The Rebels' best defense to neutralize the Cook offense should be the team's ground game. Even without Hines, Berrien still has Kenta West, who contributed 143 yards rushing as the Rebels topped 400 a week ago. A conservative gameplan could have Berrien close in the final minutes as the Rebels aim for a dearly sought-after victory against their rivals.
"It would mean a lot to finally get over that hump," Hill said. "We're trying to get that winning attitude and (a win) would let us know we can compete with the top-rated teams in the state."
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