Forsyth Central Bulldogs (5-4) at No. 5 Tucker Tigers (8-1)
When/where: 7:30 p.m. at Adams Stadium, 2383 North Druid Hills Road, Atlanta
Last season: did not play
Coaches: Chris Bennett (FC); Franklin Stephens (Tucker)
Players to watch: QB/RB Dustin Canon, RB Phillip Ray (FC); RB Drayton Allen-Calhoun, RB Jonathan Davis (Tucker)
Outlook: Central has its hands full against a team with serious talent and hopes of a state title, but a shot at the playoffs should provide an extra jolt of motivation for the Bulldogs. The Tigers have been a beast in the regular season this decade, going 74-5 since 2001.
For the first time in seven years, the Bulldogs (5-4) won't finish with a losing record. Further achievements — a winning season and a trip to the state playoffs — are still on the table, but tonight's hurdle is a tall one.
The Bulldogs head to Adams Stadium in DeKalb County for a date with Tucker (8-1), ranked fifth in Class AAAA in the latest GaSports.com coaches poll.
"They got some cats. They're pretty good," Central coach Chris Bennett said with a laugh, describing the Tigers.
"The thing that jumps out at you is really the amount of speed that they have on both sides of the ball."
The Tigers have some impressive options out of the backfield. Jonathan Davis, who also plays linebacker as well as running the ball, has been recruited by several Division I-A schools, while LSU-bound running back Drayton Allen-Calhoun has the potential to put up big numbers.
Bennett said the mood in practice has been upbeat, since — for the first time in his three years with the program — the Dawgs have something besides pride to play for in the last game of the season.
"We've had a little pep in our step. We know we've got an uphill battle against Tucker, but you know, our kids are excited and ready to play," the coach said.
The moment isn't wasted on the Bulldog seniors.
"This whole season has been a whole lot more exciting, I guess. The whole season, I'd say our senior class has put a lot more into it," said Jason Wood, who plays inside linebacker and occasionally comes in at center.
"I'm really pumped. It's my senior year, and it'll be the first time I get to have a chance to go to the playoffs," fullback/linebacker Michael Gravitt said.
The path isn't necessarily clear for the Bulldogs, who lose a head-to-head tiebreaker with Miller Grove, with whom they're currently tied for fourth place in Region 6-AAAA.
If Central can pull the upset over Tucker, while Chamblee knocks off Miller Grove, the Dawgs would be alone in fourth place. A Central loss combined with a Chamblee win would lead to a three-way tie involving Central, Miller Grove and Chamblee, with point differential settling the logjam.
Whatever the outcome, a solid effort against one of the state's top teams would give Central plenty of confidence heading into either the postseason or the offseason.
"This week we're all going to have to be on key and have everything clicking together to win the game," Wood said.
"We just got through right before practice watching a little film on [Tucker]. ... They're fast and they're pretty smart, I guess, but we're going to try," Gravitt said.