Every Thursday, Class AA blogger Adam Krohn will preview a game of the week (GOTW).
Southwest-Macon Patriots at Dodge County Indians
When, where: Friday, 7:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium at John M. Peacock Field
Records, rankings: Southwest is 2-1 overall, 0-0 in Region 3-AA and unranked; Dodge County is 3-0 overall, 0-0 in 3-AA and ranked No. 9.
Last meeting: Southwest won 26-19 in 2016.
Maxwell's projection: Dodge County by 10
Around this time last season, the Southwest Patriots defeated Dodge County 26-19 to drop the Indians to 1-4. The Indians haven't been the same team since. Following the loss, they would go on to win four of their remaining five regular season games to earn a No. 3 seed in the state playoffs, where they beat Thomasville in the first round.
The Indians are 3-0 so far this season, which has earned them a No. 9 ranking. As they head into Friday's Region 3-AA opener for both teams, they're coming off a 70-27 win over Dooly County. The 70 points is the most they've scored under coach Rex Hodges, who's guided the team since 2011.
The Indians are now looking to go 4-0 for the third time in the last five seasons. They won their first 11 games in 2015 and started 7-0 in 2014.
Hodges sees last year's loss to the Patriots as a turning point for the team.
"With last year's team, we had a handful of starters coming back from 2015 who'd been region champions, but we had a lot of new starters," Hodges said. "We played a lot better in the second half of last season, and that gave us momentum coming into this season even though we graduated about 11-12 players from last year's team. So we have new spots to fill this year too, but I feel like we're more experienced."
A big strength thus far for the Indians has been the offense, led by second-year starter Nick Cummings, a 6-foot-2, 170-pound senior dual-threat quarterback. They line up out of the shotgun, but are primarily a run team with Cummings and running backs R.J. Carr and Erin Pitts. In the passing game, Pitts sometimes lines up in the slot and Keanthony Woods and Cade Cranford are the leading receivers.
The Indians' offensive prowess was on full display last week against Dooly County and it put up 22 points in the final quarter to pull away.
Now they'll face a Patriots team that's also off to a strong start and coming off a convincing win.
Southwest is 2-1, but its only blemish is a narrow 26-20 loss to Manchester, the No. 1 team in A-public. The Patriots shut out Central-Macon 40-0 on Sept. 8. They finished last year 6-5 for their first winning season since 2008.
Under coach Joe Dupree — in his fifth season at Southwest — the Patriots are seeking back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1984-85.
"We're always talking about winning but we haven't mentioned breaking the streak (of not having back-to-back winning seasons)," Dupree said. "I didn't realize that existed, but I'll be sure to pass it along. For us, the next step is to build off last year and make the playoffs."
To reach the postseason again, the Patriots are leaning on 6-foot-5, 215-pound junior quarterback Jordan Slocum, who has been starting since his freshman season. Like Cummings, he's a dual threat. His top weapons include running backs Javoris Smith and Jaquavious Jones and receivers Jaquez Pennimon, Malique Frazier and Antonio Valentine.
"(Slocum) is very accurate, especially on long passes," Hodges said. "They've got good receivers and a good line, which blocks well for their inside run plays. They can move the ball several different ways, so that will be a big task for us."
Preparation will not be a problem for either team. Both took advantage of unexpected off weeks brought on by inclement weather, which cancelled their games. Dodge County's Sept. 8 game was nixed when Appling County said it couldn't make the trip to Eastman, so Hodges and his staff were on hand to see Southwest's shutout. Then, Southwest's Sept. 14 game against Spalding was called off, allowing Dupree and the Patriots to watch the Indians' win over Dooly County.
The Patriots have the benefit of extra rest having not played last week, but both coaches plan on a competitive game on Friday.
"What I expect from (Southwest) is to come after us and play hard," Hodges said. "I expect our guys to do the same. Then, it's going to come down to breaks and which team handles adversity. These games come down to a turnover, a big play or some kind of play in the kicking game. We just play as good as we can in all of those areas and see what kind of shape that leaves us in."
"I expect it to be a four-quarters game," Dupree said. "Very physical. They'll start fast and we'll have to overcome that and them being at home knowing that we beat them last year. They'll be ready to go and the crowd will be into it, so we'll have to withstand that and hold on for dear life."
Follow the AJC’s Class AA coverage on Twitter.