FAIRLAND - Afton head coach Zach Gardner shouldn't have to motivate his players for Friday night's battle with Fairland - but not just because of the rivalry.
The Eagles are fighting for their playoff lives.
“No matter who we play right now, we have our backs against the wall,” Gardner said. “Our goal was to win out and now it's just reinforced - we have to win out now.”
This is the only game that will be played on Friday night.
In fact, because of fall break, there are only 22 games on tap for Friday night, including six in Class A.
All of the other games in the area are slated tonight - Tulsa Rogers at Miami, Salina at Commerce, Wyandotte at Chelsea, Quapaw at Okay, Shidler at Welch and Bluejacket at White Oak.
While Fairland has won three of its last four games, Afton has dropped two of three.
That's dropped the Eagles to 3-2 in District A-8 play, good for a three-way tie for fourth with Fairland and Ketchum.
Unbeaten Commerce and Salina battle tonight with first place up for grabs and Foyil is in third at 4-1.
While Afton was being roughed up by Salina 51-28, Fairland rolled to a 39-6 victory over Quapaw.
“Our confidence should be up,” Fairland head coach Bill Pascoe said. “We have won three of the last four and really feel we should have won the other one. We don't feel there is a game left on our schedule that we can't compete in.
“Hopefully, we can transfer some of that into wins. We feel we should be in every game. If we take care of business and keep improving, we have a chance.”
The Owls opened their first season under Pascoe with losses to Kansas and Commerce.
Since then, they dropped Oklahoma Union, lost to Foyil and then rolled to wins over Hulbert and Quapaw.
“They are on a roll,” Gardner said. “They are not anybody we can look by. They have the talent. The only thing they are hurting for is numbers.”
The Owls had only 20 players on their roster for the game at Quapaw.
“We're throwing the ball decent and we're to run the ball a little better,” Pascoe said. “We're learning to study film. The better you study, the better defensive team you are. We are getting progressively better every week. If we continue to improve, we have a chance to have a winning season.”
“We gave our defense bad field position, but also they (the Wildcats) were able to move the ball on us more than we had hoped,” Gardner said. “We need to do a better job of tackling.”
Afton holds a 47-35-2 edge in a rivalry that is one of the oldest in the state, according to historian Ray Soldan.
The first stories on the Afton-Fairland rivalry appears in 1923, but its believed the teams played as early as 1915 or 1916.