Tigers to open region play versus much-improved Colts

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Coahulla Creek has never beaten Adairsville in football, but this week might be the Colts' best chance at knocking off the Tigers, thus far.

Granted, it's not a longstanding series, as Coahulla Creek has only been around since 2012. But the two programs have faced off five times in that span, with Adairsville outscoring its Whitfield County foe by a combined margin of 244-39. The closest game was a 42-16 final score in 2013 — Adairsville head coach Eric Bishop's first full season in charge of the Tigers.

Bishop knows how downtrodden the Colts are historically, having only won eight games in their history. However, one of those victories came last week in a 34-31 triumph over Southeast Whitfield, and this Coahulla Creek side looks much tougher than most previous iterations.

"They're a scary team," Bishop said. "They've made a lot of improvement, and they're playing with a lot of confidence coming off a win over Southeast. They felt like they made some changes and found what they were going to hang their hat on from Game 1 to Game 2."

In theory, Adairsville (1-1) could have spent the two weeks since its 14-7 home win over Cass preparing for Coahulla Creek (1-1). The Tigers, though, decided to use the open date for strictly personal development.

"We were mainly focused on ourselves," Bishop said of the bye week. "It wasn't a two-week game plan or anything like that. We were really focused on trying to make ourselves better and really going us against us in those practices and trying to get better at what we do, trying to perfect our craft, our skillset."

That led to Adairsville treating this week like they would any other in getting ready for Friday's Region 6-AAA opener at Coahulla Creek. It also helped ease the Tigers' workload by minimizing the changes brought about by the Colts' recent win and what that looked like on film.

"It was a good off week, and we've had a good week of practice in preparation for Coahulla Creek," Bishop said. "They're a much, much improved team. I've heard it all year, through the preseason and everything. There's kind of a consensus that they're probably the most improved team in the region from last year to this year.

"They look really good on both the offensive and defensive lines. Titus Underwood and Austin Hernandez are kind of their go-to guys. They are two-way players for them. They move them around on offense to try to get them the ball. Obviously, it will be important for our defense to identify where they are at and what kind of threat they bring from that position."

Coahulla Creek has entered its third year with Caleb Bagley in charge of the team, and he seems to have had the proper time to institute his schemes. More importantly, Bagley appears to have had successfully groomed a crop of players to carry out those schemes.

"They're doing what they did last year; they're just doing it better," Bishop said. "They're a year better at it. I think there's a lot of kids who are returning starters for them, not sure how many. ...

"Zandr Burse is an impressive receiver, and he also plays defense. They don't have a whole lot of kids who go both ways. But those guys — [Burris, Underwood and Hernandez] — are their bell cows, so to speak. As they go, the team will go."

On the defensive side of the ball, the Colts play a 3-3 stack similar to several teams in the area. Coahulla Creek, of course, has some of its own preferences that could give Bishop's offensive line, which has been improving but is still a work in progress, some issues.

"They like to bring a lot of pressure," Bishop said. "They'll bring a lot of five- and six-man pressure and do it pretty consistently throughout the game. It will be important for our offensive linemen to be able to process what they're trying to do from a blitz standpoint."

While the O-line certainly took steps forward between a season-opening 20-0 loss to Chattooga and the win over Cass two weeks ago, Bishop believes the unit improved greatly during the time since. In fact, the Tigers, as a whole, seem to have practiced with a purpose with the season's most meaningful segment quickly approaching.

"When you combine the rivalry win with the fact that this starts the region schedule, there is a certain energy or sense or urgency about getting off in the right direction in regards to the region schedule," Bishop said. "... We're trying to finish up the total preparation with [Thursday's] practice, and then travel up there to try to get our first region win."

In a nine-team region that last year proved to be incredibly competitive from spots 2-7, Adairsville would seemingly need a win this week to give itself a chance at making the playoffs down the road. Wins won't be easy to come by and Coahulla Creek is considerably better than they have been in the past, but a loss would certainly put Bishop's group in catchup mode.

While he believes it's too early for the game to be considered a "must win," his comments on the importance of the contest hint at craving for a victory.

"When you look at the big picture, each region game kind of holds the same weight," Bishop said. "It doesn't matter if you're playing Coahulla or Calhoun, at the end of the day, in the standings, each region game counts the same.

"I think it's too early for [it to be a must-win game]. From a momentum standpoint? Maybe. You hope no one game is going to define your season, no matter where it's at in the schedule. We're just focused on this week, first region game and trying to put ourselves in the best situation to be in the playoffs and make a playoff run, when that time comes."