High school football games in November almost always carry a significant amount of weight.
Whether it be early in the postseason or late regular season, like with this 2020 slate, November games make the truth come to light.
Baldwin High School football players, coaches and supporters will learn this week whether or not the Braves (4-0 region and overall) are the best team in GHSA Region 4-4A. Also laying claim to the region title are the Perry Panthers (5-0 region, 5-4 overall) who will host BHS Friday night to determine the region championship and home-field advantage in the Class 4A state playoffs.
“I think it’s very fitting that the region championship comes down to the last regular season game,” Baldwin head coach Jesse Hicks said.
The Braves and Panthers last met two years ago in the first round of the postseason. Baldwin took that matchup 39-22 on its way to a run into the quarterfinals. Despite that 2018 meeting being a win-or-go-home situation, Hicks believes the stakes are higher this week.
“You’ve got every reason right now to play a great game,” he said. “I don’t want our kids to get caught up in the region championship. I want them to treat this just like we do everything else. We know what comes along with it. You can’t ignore that, but the concentration level has to be the same as any other time you’re going out there trying to get a W.”
BHS is shooting for its first region championship since that 2018 season and sixth in program history. Perry has not won a region title since 1959, the program’s only time accomplishing that feat. The Panthers own an 8-6-1 lead in the all-time series against Baldwin.
Oddly enough, the two starting quarterbacks from the 2018 Baldwin-Perry playoff matchup will be behind center again this week. BHS junior Derrick Lewis was a freshman at the time filling in for injured senior starter Torez Hicks. As an 11th-grader, Lewis is completing 55 percent of his passes and has thrown nine touchdowns versus only three interceptions. The more pass-heavy Panther spread offense is led by senior Lane Rucker, who has found his targets on nearly 60 percent of his attempts while also throwing for nine touchdowns. Rucker has thrown seven interceptions though, and will likely be having to fit the ball into some tight spaces versus the very athletic Baldwin secondary led by Javon Bullard and Kirtavious Hightower.
Defensively, Perry lines up in a 4-2-5 look similar to Baldwin’s, according to Coach Hicks. The film shows that the Panthers have a couple of talented defensive linemen and two skilled safeties the Braves will have to be wary of.
“I think it’s going to be a great matchup,” Hicks said. “What it’s going to come down to is will, not skill. It’s going to come down to which team has the will to win the football game, get home-field advantage and that No. 1 seed as well as the region championship.”
A BHS win would put the team at 5-0 in the region while Perry would fall to 5-1 with no time remaining in the regular season. Cancellations due to COVID-19 are not counted as losses, so Howard canceling its game against Baldwin a few weeks ago would not stop the Braves from earning the region championship with a win this week.
Speaking of COVID, the pandemic has created some unique game attendance policies, and this week is no exception. Tickets to Friday’s Baldwin-Perry game are being pre-sold, and Perry has allocated 200 tickets to BHS for fans to purchase. Coach Hicks hopes to see that number increase before gameday.
“I’m asking all of Milledgeville and Baldwin County to go ahead and purchase those tickets so we can maybe go back and get 200 more, or whatever they’ll let us get,” the BHS head coach said. “We need to flood the place. We want to turn our visitors’ side into a home side and bring the entire city of Milledgeville to Perry Friday. Fans shouldn’t miss out on one of the biggest games in Central Georgia this week.”
Tickets may be purchased at Baldwin High this week between noon and 4 p.m. each day. They can only be bought physically as Perry is not using the GoFan website many schools have turned to this season for digital tickets.
Kickoff between Baldwin and Perry is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday in Perry.