Anyone who has followed the Adairsville football team this season knows the Tigers have been through their share of ups and downs with a record below .500 and no consecutive wins.
It would probably shock most of those individuals to hear that Maxwell Ratings have Adairsville with a 46 percent chance to make the state playoffs.
For a team currently tied for sixth in the Region 6-AAA standings to have a nearly 50 percent chance to reach the postseason, something has to be lining up to see Adairsville finish in the top four.
And the schedule does set up well for the Tigers (3-4, 2-3). Following a gauntlet the past four weeks, which included a 1-3 record, Adairsville finishes the season with games against the only region teams tied or below them in the standings.
The somewhat friendly run starts with a road trip to Sonoraville this Friday. The Phoenix (2-4, 1-3) sit eighth in the standings following an overtime loss to Haralson County last week.
This week’s contest will essentially serve as an elimination game for the postseason, especially with only three games remaining for the Tigers as opposed to four for some teams.
“Playing on the road, that’s a challenge in and of itself,” Adairsville head coach Eric Bishop said. “Hopefully, we’re going to have a big crowd follow us up there. It is a big game — playoff implications for both teams.
“The big thing is when you’re in a situation like this it seems like every game becomes a playoff-type atmosphere. All the stress and all that comes in a playoff setting. It will be good for our team to be in that situation.”
This season, the Tigers are no stranger to tense situations. Outside of last week’s 61-0 loss at the hands of No. 1-ranked Calhoun, Adairsville has been competitive in every game.
Three of those contests have been decided by three points or fewer with one being decided on the final play.
“Typically, you’re going to have one ballgame like that in a season,” Bishop said of the down-to-the-wire finishes. “To know that we’ve been through three ballgames like that — we’ve won two and lost one — it’s experience you don’t get when you’re either way ahead or way behind in a contest. …
“That last-second experience will hopefully pay off for us. We’re 2-1 in them now. If it comes down to that, I’d hope the advantage would be with Adairsville in that setting.”
The most important thing for the Tigers this week will be putting the loss to the Yellow Jackets behind them. It’s a common theme for Adairsville this season, as the Tigers have seemingly been dealt a hurdle of adversity to overcome on a weekly basis.
For Bishop, the easiest way to put last week’s struggles on the back burner would be a hot start. After plenty of turnovers in the first half against Calhoun, a clean first half would be a welcome sight.
“I think it will be important for us to get off to a good start — whatever that might be, offense, defense, special teams,” Bishop said. “We’ve got to have some laser-focus and make sure we have success early.”
In some ways, Sonoraville’s offense is built like Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe’s. At the very least, it gives Bishop’s defense somewhat of a blueprint to follow. Although, he can also see some parallels with how his offense lines up.
“They’re more zone-oriented, zone read,” Bishop said. “They have a new little twist in their offense, where they’ve got a shovel-pass option. They lean a little more towards the spread side than we do.
“They don’t throw it a whole lot, but when they do, they’re generally effective. We’ll try to keep that balance of managing the run, hopefully, make some big plays to put them behind the chains and make them do stuff they don’t really want to do and aren’t as comfortable doing.”
Defensively, the Phoenix line up in the 3-5-3 that seems to be a popular choice in the region. While each team seems to run a slightly different variation, Bishop did say Sonoraville’s 2019 version is similar to what his team saw last week.
“It seems, at least at this point, he wants to play more like the Calhoun 3-5-3,” Bishop said of Sonoraville defensive coordinator Deron Walraven. “We’ll be expecting one high safety and cover three with a good bit of pressure. We’ll try to handle that the best we can, move the chains and put points on the board.”
If Adairsville can successfully accomplish that, the Tigers have an excellent opportunity to start their home stretch with a road win. It would go a long way towards helping Bishop's crew reach its primary goal.
A playoff berth is hardly a given at this point with five teams above Adairsville in the standings, but a victory this week could be the impetus that puts the Tigers on a postseason trajectory.
“We’ll continue to move on and hopefully make a run at this in these last three games,” Bishop said. “We’ve got two tough road games, there ain’t no doubt about it. At Sonoraville and at Ringgold are two tough places to play.
"We need the Adairsville faithful to stay with us, travel up to Sonoraville and help these boys make a run at the state playoffs.”