The football mini-shootout at Northwest Whitfield last year was the ultimate showdown.
Ringgold, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe and Dalton all showed up on a Monday for a three-way playoff to see which two teams would advance to the state playoffs.
Both the Tigers and the Warriors defeated rival Dalton and advanced.
It was a sad night for perennial region power Dalton. The Catamounts fell 9-7 to Ringgold in the first mini-game, and 14-0 to the Warriors in the second mini-game in front of more than 5,000 spectators.
Ringgold senior Ray Smith booted a 31-yard field goal with 0:10 to play to upset the apple cart of a Dalton program that now has 35 consecutive winning seasons.
But last year is over.
This is a new year and time for another “Showdown in Tunnel Hill Town.”
Friday night’s battle between LFO and the Bruins at Northwest Whitfield is now the most anticipated game of the year.
Although both teams are already assured of advancing to postseason play, it will become a war when the first whistle sounds.
On paper this looks to be the most equally matched game in 7-AAAA North this season. LFO is 9-0 overall and 5-0 in the sub region. Northwest Whitfield managed to beat Murray County 27-21, Friday night in Chatsworth to extend its record to 8-1 overall and 5-0 in the region.
The Bruins overcame two kickoff returns for touchdowns by Murray’s Jeremy Norman. Northwest got two second-half touchdowns from Tyler Johnson to edge one of its biggest rivals.
In comparison, Murray County was not a threat to the Warriors two weeks ago at Tommy Cash Stadium when John Allen’s Warriors pounded the Indians 28-0.
The last time these two teams played was 2001 when LFO won 31-6.
One area sports personality picked LFO to defeat Northwest Whitfield by four touchdowns. But this showdown should be closer.
After scoring more than 50 points against Dalton and 53 against Ridgeland, nobody is disputing the LFO offense.
Senior Michael Burkett has led the Warriors to eight wins as the starting signal caller. He has utilized all of his eligible receivers to put up impressive passing numbers this season.
LFO has the weapons to score anytime it has the ball. Running backs Cordarius Lawrence, Jermaine Williams and wide receiver Reggie Hubbard can score from anywhere on the field.
But the difference in this showdown could be experience. The Warriors have 18 battle-tested seniors. This highly decorated group has won at Rome twice during its four years, defeated Dalton two consecutive years, and will be playing in its fourth consecutive year in the state playoffs.
These seniors are 34-5 in regular season games, and 35-8 counting playoffs in those four years.
LFO has outscored the opponents this season 340-88 and has scored more than 40 points three times and more than 50 twice. The defense has recorded two shutouts.
Although Northwest has been playing up in Class AAAAA until this season, this will be the Bruins’ first trip to the state playoffs in four years. The big, strong Northwest line has allowed quarterback Caleb Callhan plenty of time to move the chains, but the Bruins have not faced a team with the defenders the Warriors have.
Nick “The Beast” Tanner, Eric Dunn, Andrew Parson, Nathan Murdock and Josh Keown form a strong defensive front for LFO. That group will cast a nightmare on a team’s pre-Halloween festivities.
And does Northwest have the speed to match up with the Warriors?
This Friday isn’t just a battle to see who’s best in North Georgia; it’s for the opportunity to host a first round playoff game.
Mark my words, it may not be four touchdowns, but Allen will be either planning for extra seating next week at Cash Stadium or heading to Finley Stadium again.
Warrior fans could get everything on their Christmas wish list if Allen and his team play their cards right. A trip to the semifinals at the Georgia Dome isn’t far fetched with this bunch. Misty Martin is sports editor of The Catoosa County News and Fort Oglethorpe Press.