The game is big enough already because of its rivalry factor.
Throw in a possible GISA Region 4-3A title and a No. 1 seed for the Class 3A playoffs, and Friday’s John Milledge-Gatewood showdown moves to another level.
The Trojans enter Friday’s 7:30 p.m. game in Eatonton with a 9-0 record, including a 3-0 region record, while the Gators are 8-1 overall and 2-1 in region play.
“It’s a big one, and they’re rolling over there,” John Milledge head coach J.T. Wall said. “It’s a rivalry, and it always has been with us and Gatewood, and that’s kind of why we like playing them the last game of the year because of the rivalry. This just adds to it with the chance at a region championship and all that is at stake. There’s a lot on the line this week, and our guys know that. (Gatewood head coach Jeff) Ratliff and his guys at Gatewood know the same thing.”
The teams have had similar seasons to get to this point.
John Milledge is averaging 43.7 points per game, while allowing just 55 total points. The Trojans have recorded four shutouts and have not allowed more than 12 points in a game since giving up 20 in their opener.
Gunner Roberts leads a balanced rushing attack for the Trojans with 603 rushing yards, while Noah Lavender has 411 and Dawson Huff has 309, and those three have combined for 22 rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Trevor Evans has thrown for 1,016 yards and 18 touchdowns with just three interceptions, while four players have double-digit receptions: Mike Francis (23 catches for 339 yards), Lavender (12-177), Jaylin Sealey (12-116) and Andrew Prestwood (12-191).
Huff leads the Trojans’ defense with 109 tackles, including nine tackles for loss and three sacks.
“It’s very important for us. We’re undefeated, and we’re 9-0, but we’ve got the possibility of going to Eatonton and winding up the three seed, and that’s not what you want,” Wall said. “You want to be the one seed, and the way it’s set up this year, you would host all the way through, and we’ve got the possibility of that.”
Gatewood is averaging 41.0 points and has allowed just 91 total points. The Gators have recorded three shutouts and held seven opponents to single digits in scoring.
Running back Brandon Belans leads the Gators with 920 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, while quarterback Reid Sasser has rushed for 660 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I’d like to think so. I’d like to think we’re included in that conversation,” Ratliff said when asked if the game features two of the state’s best teams. “We’ve been working hard up here, and we’ve been trying to build something. I’ve had the same staff all four years, and we’ve tried to instill what we do, and hopefully, what we’ve been doing in the offseason and during the season is clicking, and I like to think we’re getting there. But you’ve got to beat this team to be included in that conversation, and here we are.”
The Gators haven’t had much success in this rivalry. The Trojans own a 31-10-2 record in the all-time series and have won six straight meetings.
The Gators won the 2009 game, but that was their only win in the past 21 meetings, with a tie in 2006.
“It’s a big game any time we play them, a big rivalry game,” Ratliff said. “We’ve had a pretty good year, and they are rolling in here undefeated, so yeah, it’s a big game, especially as far as playing seeding goes and all of that.
“It’s a great atmosphere, and we’d love an opportunity to host (in the playoffs). It’s a big deal as far as that goes. Plus, it’s a big deal to our fans as far as the rivalry goes. You know how us coaches are. It’s the next game, and we’re trying to prepare for it like that, but we know they’re a good football team. Our fans are really jacked up, just like any fans, and they’d love to win, and this is a team that has kind of beaten us through the years.”