The Briarwood Buccaneers will come off this past week's open date to host rival John Hancock Academy and honor the school's senior athletes in Senior Appreciation ceremonies at 7:10 p.m. this Friday evening at Briarwood.
"Now, we're down to rivals and regions," Coach Jimmy Barnett said. "This is the part of the season that counts. All of the good games for the experience are gone. We've got to win now."
John Hancock, the Bucs' only non-region foe left on the schedule, will come to Buccaneer field healthy for the first time this season, according to Coach Barnett, who said the Rebels have been playing without their starting running backs.
"They're a whole different ball club with their two running backs," Coach Barnett said. "I've always had a problem with playing John Hancock. They are going to play football every week, regardless of their record."
However, the Bucs are ready, Coach Barnett said.
"We've been real lucky injury-wise, just the standard bruises and bumps," he said. "We're making the turn into the second half of the season healthy.
"We had a good off week," he continued. "We worked on our running game and polished the passing game. It's (passing) something we've got to be able to do."
The team will be looking for inspiration from their six seniors, - fullback Tyler Wester, halfback Dustin Pilgrim, tight end Blake Stitcher, center Jason Dunham, tackle Will Quinn and guard Micah Black - who "have shown excellent leadership," according to Barnett.
"This is the crowd that's going to tote us," Coach Barnett said.
After suffering a series of "niggling injuries," Wester - the Bucs' 200+ pound fullback and one of the best in AA - is "finally healthy" and should make a tremendous difference in the team.
Quinn, who came out for the squad for the first time last season, is "just now reaching his potential to be one of the better tacklers in AA."
Center Jason Dunham has evolved into "a tremendous center" after first coming out for the squad last season, according to Coach Barnett, who added that he "can't believe the difference in this year and last year."
Tight end Blake Stitcher has always had promise, but hasn't had a chance to show off his talents, because the Bucs haven't thrown the ball much. That's changing, according to Barnett, whose Bucs worked on their throwing game last week.
"He's going to make some big plays for us," he said.
Halfback Pilgrim, who also played for the first time last year, has mastered a learning curve and done an excellent job of it, according to Coach Barnett, who said Pilgrim is an integral part of the Bucs' revamped running game.
Guard Black came out for the first time this year and has progressed from having "absolutely no clue what football was about" to playing on special teams and filling in for regulars. Black should see more playing time as the season progresses.
The Bucs, who have played one region game to date, a victory over Curtis Baptist, will face traditional rivals and region foes Gatewood School in Eatonton on Oct. 14, Edmund Burke Academy in Homecoming at Briarwood on Oct. 21, and Brentwood School in Sandersville on Oct. 28, the season finale.
Probably "the brightest point" in the Bucs' favor now is all the game experience and expertise the team's younger players gained in the first half of the season.
"They've got to contribute in order for us to be successful," Coach Barnett said.
Freshman center Matthew Graziano and freshman safety Nick Dawson have been particularly impressive as the season progressed and will see increased playing time, according to Coach Barnett.
The Buccaneers' senior cheerleaders and football players will be honored in the pre-game ceremonies on Friday night.