A win would mean a lot of things for the Eagles (5-3, 3-1 Region 6A-A), including having the longest winning streak — five games — since a six-game streak in 1996.
"A lot riding on [this game] — sub-region championship, a chance for a winning season, a chance to go up in the power rankings. A lot of things rolled into one," MZ coach Keith Holloway said.
Against the Trojans (5-3, 2-2), Mt. Zion is just 1-11 all time with all but four games taking place since 2000. The lone win, the last game of 2009, was the last win before this season. But the Eagles have already put all-time records behind them this year.
"It would be huge for the school, the program, the community. Every time we win one, we feel like it's huge. We savor every win. We aren't taking them for granted, by any means. This one would be special because it would put us in first place. We know Gordon Lee's got a great defense. They've played everybody and have a winning record," Holloway said.
The Trojans are a veteran group that reeled off five straight wins after a season-opening loss, but the last two weeks have not been kind. Gordon Lee has lost the past two games against Darlington and Trion without scoring a point, dropping them by 31-0 and 6-0 finals.
Senior running back Adam Vandiver leads the GL offense, averaging almost 100 yards rushing per game, while junior Zach Cobb adds another 73 yards per game. Quarterback Garrett McAllister doesn't throw the ball a lot, only 77 attempts in eight games, but he is accurate. All four leading tacklers for Gordon Lee, including linebacker Bryce Bailey with 15 per game, are seniors.
"Gordon Lee, they're a senior-led football team. They have 14 seniors, and they use all of them. They've got two real good inside linebackers, they put pressure on you and stunt a lot. They force the quarterback to get rid of the ball real quick," Holloway said. "We've got to stick to our rules and be smart, try to hang around until the fourth quarter and hopefully we can pull it out."
Even though Gordon Lee's two losses have come against the two teams Mt. Zion has beaten in the last two weeks, the Eagle coaching staff knows it all comes down to Friday nights under the lights and not how the teams look on paper.
"We know that everybody in our sub-region is capable of beating everybody. There's five teams that are pretty much even. I think that says a lot about our sub-region. You have five out of six teams with winning records. Every week in this sub-region, you can get beat. All you have to do is have one slip-up. We definitely know they're capable of beating us, and I think they know we're capable of beating them. It should be a good ball game," Holloway said.
This time of the season it is always a struggle to stay healthy. The Eagles are dealing with some injuries and unknowns as they get ready for the two-and-a-half hour road trip.
"We're pretty banged up. We've got five or six starters that are really banged up. We've got some kids that are going to have to step up and take up the slack. Hopefully, go up and execute and come back from Chickamauga with a 'W,'" Holloway said. "It's day-to-day. We've got a couple knee injuries and an ankle injury and a foot injury."
The final week of the season is the Region 6-A play-in games, as the top four teams from 6A-A and 6B-A will face each other — No. 1 from one side versus No. 4 from the other and the No. 2 teams versus No. 3. The region winner will then be decided based upon the new Class A Power Rankings.
The Eagles currently are 20th, with the top 16 teams making the public school playoffs. A pair of wins in the last two games would go a long way to a postseason appearance, and a win Friday would make game No. 10 a lot more manageable.
"This win could put us in first place and possibly be playing Mt. Paran, but not sure yet. We won't know for sure until after Friday. If we lose, Darlington would be in first and there would be a three-way tie for the other three spots and that would go to head-to-head competition and then to people you play within Class A. If we get beat, it's going to get complicated. If we win, we know we're playing No. 4," Holloway said.