Friday night's showdown between White County and Dawson County already had plenty going for it, as the two playoff hopefuls from Region 7-AAA squared off for postseason positioning.
Then came Monday's news, and suddenly things took on an even more urgent tone for the face-off in Dawsonville.
With Buford forfeiting two victories -- over West Hall and Banks County -- due to fielding an ineligible player in the waning moments of both lopsided contests, the Warriors and Tigers suddenly have a lot more company in the race for state.
In fact, Dawson and White are now joined by Banks and West Hall, along with fourth-ranked Buford -- which defeated the Tigers and Warriors earlier this season -- with identical 2-2 region records. The abundance of 2-2 records mean that a victory on Friday could be even more important in the postseason picture. And the loser of Friday's contest could be left needing a two-game sweep at the end of the season just to ensure a playoff berth.
For their part, however, neither the Tigers nor the Warriors are worried about playing the "what if" game. They have more pressing matters at hand -- starting Friday.
"We can't worry about what we'll have to do after this game; we can only focus on this game right now," Dawson County coach Jeff Lee said. "Just because of the Buford forfeits, that hasn't really changed anything major. We're still fighting for a playoff spot right now, and whoever wins this game has a great shot at third, maybe even second if things fall right."
Warriors coach Bill Ballard agreed: "Friday is very important for us, and that's all we're really looking at right now,"
Both teams are preparing for a battle in Dawsonville, as White County (4-3, 2-2 Region 7-AAA) brings its triple option attack to bear against Dawson's (4-3, 2-2) wide-open offensive assault.
"They are huge and fast at receiver, and that will be a tough match-up for everyone," Ballard said of the Tigers, who feature 6-foot-5 senior Bruce Clark, among other weapons that quarterback Tyler Dominy has taken advantage of for much of the 2012 campaign.
"Their quarterback (Dominy) throws the ball extremely well," Ballard continued. "And their fullback (Zack Martin) is a bull. And then on defense they have a tough eight-man front. We've got our work cut out for us."
The Tigers are also expecting a test, especially against White County's triple option attack, led by quarterback Will Brock.
"They make you play assignment football, and then they can still hit you with the pass if you get too sucked up looking for the run," Lee said. "We've got to cover the fullback and make them go to their second option at least, and their quarterback -- who is their second option -- is pretty stinking good.
"I think we're two pretty evenly-matched teams, and it's going to be a good high school football game on Friday."
Indeed, the Tigers enter the contest averaging 30.7 points per game on offense while allowing 22. The Warriors are scoring 25.9 and giving up 22.7.
"We both have strong defenses and can run the ball," said Lee, who adds that, despite falling to Buford 34-3 last week, his team gathered confidence with its most recent performance. "You could see our confidence building as the game went on, and I'm hoping that, at least our defense, can carry that over into this week."
White County, meanwhile, is looking to regain its footing after dropping two straight -- 49-14 to Buford and then 42-7 at 7-AAA leader North Hall last week. And while the Warriors enter still nursing some injuries, Ballard has no doubt his team will give its best effort in Dawsonville.
"These kids have taken everything in stride and have played extremely hard. I'm real proud of them," said Ballard, who has seen Brock miss game time, along with standout middle linebacker Dalton Whitfield, amongst other starters. "We don't have a lot of depth, but the farther along we get, the healthier we're getting. And these kids have shown great leadership and have been a lot of fun to coach."
Both coaches believe Friday's match-up should also prove fun for those in the stands -- and Lee expects an electric atmosphere for a game that carries so much import.
"I think that will only add to the game," Lee said. "We're excited, and they'll be excited too. They have to be. Look at what's at stake... It's going to be an interesting next three weeks."
NOTES: Dawson County has already played three of the five teams tied at 2-2, losing to Buford and North Hall but defeating Banks County 45-9. White County has played just two of those teams, falling to both North Hall and Buford. The Warriors will follow Friday's Dawson contest with back-to-back home dates with West Hall (Nov. 2) and Banks (Nov. 9). ... North Hall currently sits alone in first place in 7-AAA with a 4-0 league mark and is 6-1 overall. The Trojans could clinch the 7-AAA title with wins this week against West Hall (in Oakwood) and then at home to Banks County (Nov. 2). ... West Hall -- which defeated Banks 33-20 earlier this season -- still holds its own playoff destiny in its hands with games against White County (Nov. 2, away) and Dawson County (Nov. 9, home). ... Buford will need help to win 7-AAA, needing to sweep its remaining games and hoping for someone else to defeat North Hall. ... Earlier this week, we erroneously reported incorrect records for West Hall and Banks County, who are now each 3-4 overall.
WHITE COUNTY at DAWSON COUNTY
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Tiger Stadium, Dawsonville
-- RADIO: 1350 AM, wrwh.com
-- WHITE (4-3, 2-2 Region 7-AAA): Lost to North Hall 42-7 last week.
-- DAWSON (4-3, 2-2 Region 7-AAA): Lost to Buford 34-3 last week.
-- HISTORY: White County won the last meeting, 50-43 in 2001. The Warriors lead the series 3-1.