It all comes down to this.
From the first day of spring practice, the Gainesville Red Elephants and the Flowery Branch Falcons have prepared for this opportunity.
Tonight at Bobby Gruhn Field, the two subregion foes go head-to-head to determine this year’s Region 7-AAA champion, and they both know that they are in for a fight.
"I know on both sides, both teams will be ready to play," said Gainesville quarterback Blake Sims. "The team that makes the less mistakes is going to be the team that wins."
Added Falcons senior Daniel Drummond, "It could be the biggest game in Flowery Branch school history."
According to Drummond’s coach Lee Shaw, there’s no ‘could be’ about it.
Tonight is the biggest game in the program’s seven-year history.
"We’ve been in the hunt before, but it’s never came to a head like this at the end of the season," said Shaw, whose team is playing for the school’s first football region championship. "It’s a position that we hoped we’d be in, and we’re in it, and we’re thankful to be in it.
"If we want to be a great football team we have to win this one."
And in order to be a great football team, the Falcons (8-1, 4-0 Region 7B-AAA) are going to have to beat one.
The fifth-ranked Red Elephants (9-0, 4-0) come into tonight’s matchup averaging 39 points per game, while surrendering a miserly eight points a game on defense. Their offense is based on spreading the field and using their speed to their advantage, which is one of the obstacles that Flowery Branch must overcome.
"I don’t think we’ve seen speed like that all year," Drummond said of his opponents. "Certainly all their speed and keeping their quarterback contained is going to be a challenge. But if we do it, we’ll have a really good chance of coming out on top."
The Falcons aren’t the only ones concerned about slowing down a high-powered offense.
"Our defense has their work cut out for them," Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. "They’re going to have to rise to the challenge.
"They’ve risen to the challenge all year and I hope they’ll do it again."
That challenge will be slowing down a Falcons offense that comes in averaging 36 points per game and has outscored its past five opponents 215-40.
"We just have to swarm to the ball like we’ve been doing all year and force some turnovers," said Gainesville’s Josh Jackson, who leads the area with 11 sacks and is the anchor of a defensive unit that has recorded three shutouts this season.
Flowery Branch’s defense, led by Division I prospects Izaan Cross and Drummond, is also stout, as the Falcons are limiting their opponents to 11 points a game.
"We’re just going to have to see what they give us and take it," Miller said on how he plans on attacking the Falcons’ defense. "We’re going to have to be patient and realize that it’s not going to be like a lot of games this year where it was a couple of big plays and it was over.
"It’s gonna be a fight to the finish."
With both teams so evenly matched, Shaw knows that the region championship is going to be determined by the little things.
"You always talk about the little things and the fundamentals of football," he said. "And when you’re matched up like this, it comes down to those fundamentals."
"If we make a mistake, we have to get back up and go again, and we can’t let it get us down," the Gainesville coach said. "If we fall behind, we have to fight back. We just have to be able to handle adversity."
Yet despite the magnitude of the game and the challenge ahead, both teams have prepared for tonight just like any other Friday.
"They know what it means," Miller said of the game’s importance. "You either win the region or end up as the third seed. The biggest thing is they go play well, and you try not to put pressure on them to play well because they know they have to play well."
With a bye week last week, the Falcons have had extra time to feel that pressure, which they say has not gotten to them.
"We’re just trying to view it as another game," Drummond said. "We can’t let the hype get to our heads. We have to stay focused and take care of business like we would any other Friday."
That’s all well and good in planning for a game of this nature, but when the region championship is on the line, both the players and coaches admit to being anxious for game time.
"We’re ready to play," Sims said. "We know this is for the region championship and we got to come into the game ready, fast paced, and put the ball in the end zone so we can become region champs."
If Gainesville wins it will be the school’s 23 region championship, 23 more than Flowery Branch.
"It’ll be big because it’s never happened," Cross said of the thoughts of winning the region. "That’ll be huge for this school and this community."
While Cross would like to win the title for his community, Miller knows how much it will mean if Gainesville wins tonight.
"I’d like to win it for these guys, for the coaching staff and the players," he said. "They have worked so hard and they deserve it, but we got to go get it."
Regardless of who goes and gets it, Shaw said tonight is what high school football is all about.
"This is what memories are made of," he said. "Hopefully when these kids get around to be my age they’ll talk about ‘The Game.’ And hopefully it’ll be a positive memory."