October 10, 2017 5:59:38 PM
If ESPN was in charge of this weekend's area high school football slate, the hype would already be in overdrive.
The ads would be running non-stop and every angle of three marquee matchups would be broken down around the clock.
Yes, we would even have that countdown to kickoff ticker showing the time left before 7 p.m. Friday.
Showdown Friday is upon us and the area schedule for week nine is outstanding.
Three contests will feature region/district championships on the line and each county in the Golden Triangle will be involved.
We start in Lowndes County.
Heritage Academy will play host to Starkville Academy with the winner claiming the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, District 2 championship.
Both teams are 7-1 overall and 2-0 in district play. Starkville Academy has won five straight, while Heritage Academy has won four straight.
When you conduct preseason interviews on both campuses, the objectives are simple.
"Play for a state championship" and "beat Starkville/Heritage."
This actually may be the area's best football rivalry. Players on both teams always have friendships with the enemy side. There is also a genuine passion in making sure the rivalry games goes their way.
In the past decade, the weaker team has played well and actually pulled some upsets along the way. That is when a rivalry is good. When the unexpected can become expected.
With both schools dropping down to Class AAA a year ago, the path to a state championship is easier. The power points system now in place to seed the MAIS playoffs will look kindly upon Friday's winner.
The loser will also be in great shape for home-field advantage and the two teams playing one another with much more on the line is entirely possible.
For now, we simply need to sit back and enjoy Friday.
This contest will not have statewide attention and it won't have a long line of college coaches waiting to get it.
It will have intensity and passion. It will be played the way the game is meant to be played.
In Clay County, West Point will play Olive Branch with first place in the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class 5A, Region 1 race on the line.
Each team is 7-0 overall and 3-0 in the region. West Point is attempting to repeat as state champions, while Olive Branch is on the road to recovery from an 0-11 season last year in Class 6A.
Fortunately for West Point, this region has been quite bad for some time. It is easier to get a team up for two or three games a year. For the 2017 Green Wave, this is the game to be up for. Thus, you know West Point will be ready to play its best.
Olive Branch remains an unknown commodity. The Conquistadors had a flurry of near-misses with a young team a season ago. We knew they would be better. How much better was debatable.
West Point has won its first three region games by an average margin of 43 points per game. Olive Branch checks in with average of 32 points per game.
One could also like Olive Branch's average of 234.8 yards per game on the ground, until they scroll over and see West Point at 336.1 yards per game.
More than likely, West Point will deliver another masterful knockout performance.
However, West Point has sent out "Save the Date" invites to Friday's game on its Twitter feed, so Olive Branch must be doing something right.
We shift now to Oktibbeha County, where Starkville and Madison Central will do battle at Yellow Jacket Stadium.
First place in the MHSAA Class 6A, Region 2 race will be on the line here. Starkville is 7-1 overall, while Madison Central is 6-1. Each is 3-0 in region play.
A year ago, Madison Central sent Starkville's season south with a 29-14 regular-season loss in Madison. That would be one of three region setbacks for Starkville, causing the team to miss the playoffs altogether.
One region setback (Northwest Rankin) has already been avenged, where this could be the second one.
Starkville has won five in a row, while Madison Central has won three in a row.
The Starkville margin of victory in region play is 37.7 points. Meanwhile, Madison Central is still trying to get the heartbeat back to normal after a double-overtime win over Warren Central Friday night.
Starkville started slow in its last region home game -- the win over Northwest Rankin. It's a good bet the Yellow Jackets will come out locked and loaded this time around.
Muck like with Starkville Academy-Heritage Academy and West Point-Olive Branch, this could just be the beginning. The odds of these two finding each other again in the postseason are high.
For now, we must simply sit back and enjoy Friday night. Three good viewing options. Each a short drive from wherever you might be reading this column.
Where is Lee Corso? He would look good dressed up as a Yellow Jacket.
Scott Walters is a sports writer for The Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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