The calendar may still read September and the weather certainly doesn't reflect it, but there will be a postseason atmosphere flocking into Franklin tonight.
With the Temple High School football team gearing up for one of its biggest regular-season games in recent history when it takes the turf against Heard County for the 7:30 p.m. showdown at Staples Stadium, there should be plenty of electricity flowing throughout the field for the Region 5-AA opener.
Not only does it kick off league play between a pair of top-15 ballclubs in Class AA, it is also the Fox 5 Game of the Week and one of the most intriguing matchups between the longtime region foes in several seasons.
And for first-year Tiger head coach Scotty Ward, his message to the team leading up to the contest was simple — act like you've been there before.
"I know we never have, for the most part, but let's act that way. Let's do things the right way [tonight], let's come to school focused, let's have a great day. Not a bunch of horsing around and see where we can go with this thing," Ward said.
Heard County head coach Tim Barron has reiterated to his players this week that they've got a hungry ballclub coming into their territory tonight that wants to knock them off their pedestal.
"I think they're excited. I really do. We've played Temple for so, so long and I think it's setting in that the more film we watch on them, the better understanding they're getting about how much better and more improved they are," Barron said. "We watched film on Sunday, we watched it on Monday and every day we pop that film in, they look better and better."
No. 10 Heard County (4-1, 0-0 Region 5-AA) has already played all of its non-region games and has two open dates following tonight's tussle. Barron stressed that his team is still very much a work-in-progress, especially on the line of scrimmage, and he's hopeful of seeing it take another step in the right direction tonight.
"We've still got a lot of growing to do just with anytime you've got that many young people up front. They are working and they are getting better every week. It's just a process," Barron said. "We're very proud of the improvements we've made and we also know that we've got a long way to go. We really do. That's not just coach-talk. When we break it down and watch the film there's so many little things that we've got to do a better job of."
For Temple (4-0, 0-0), the non-region schedule presented an opportunity to grow into the new systems and continue to build confidence on a week-to-week basis. Ward has been pleased with that progress, but added that his team is facing its stiffest test to date in the Braves and their plethora of play-makers at the skill positions, led by Ohio State commit Emory Jones running the offense.
"That's going to be the big deal for us, trying to contain [Jones] and keep him in the pocket. We can't let him use his legs and make big plays against us. That's going to be our No. 1 goal, as far as trying to stop them," Ward said. "Of course, their running game has really gotten better in the last couple of weeks. They put up some big numbers last week, so it's going to be tough."
The Braves are somewhat familiar with the Wing-T Pistol that Ward's implemented this fall with the Tigers. As a former Fitzgerald assistant, Ward brought a lot of the Purple Hurricane philosophies with him to Temple.
Heard County has played Fitzgerald three times in the past two seasons, including twice last year — the season opener and the second round of the playoffs — and Barron has a great deal of respect for what he's about to face tonight.
"Basically, they're running Fitzgerald's offense. If you look at the top two, three scoring teams in the state, they're running that system, and they're doing a very good job with it," Barron said. "It presents to us a ton of challenges. There's a million formations, a lot of different things they can hit you with. So it's going to be a challenge for us defensively to slow that bunch down.
"Watching them on film and seeing them execute, seeing them playing as hard as they're playing, you can just tell they're fired up. Any time a new coach comes in, there's excitement. Coach Ward's come in there and I talked to coach [Jason] Strickland at Fitzgerald and he talked about how when he lost coach Ward it hurt him. He was a guy that he thought highly of as a football coach and as a person and you can see that there's a little different energy, different excitement right now."
Tonight's contest will broadcast live on Great Classics 98.9 FM.