ATLANTA -- Rush Probst, never one to look for the politically correct exit sign, didn't hesitate when asked about this week's Lowndes vs. Valdosta high school football matchup.
"I'll be shocked if it ain't Lowndes winning by double digits," said Probst, the coach at Colquitt County who led national power Hoover (Ala.) to No. 1 rankings. "To me, it is Lowndes, 35-7 or 35-14."
Probst has seen Lowndes and Valdosta up close this season. Lowndes thumped Probst's Colquitt County team, 51-0. Valdosta squeezed past Colquitt County, 42-39.
The two south Georgia rivals - whose players grew up together, played youth league sports together and whose families bump into each other all over town during the week - play Friday night in their annual rivalry at Valdosta. It is called the Winnersville Classic because of the mountain of state championship trophies collected there.
Lowndes (6-0), which is No. 7 in the RivalsHigh 100 rankings, has won 20 consecutive games and has become what Valdosta (4-2) used to be - a national powerhouse. The Vikings have won five state titles and are the reigning 5-A champs in Georgia. This season, Lowndes has outscored its six opponents 218-28 and has three shutouts.
"They may be the best team in the country, and we use to play some of the best teams in the country when I was at Hoover, so I know what a great team looks like," Probst said. "The only thing that keeps them from getting up to No. 1 and getting that ranking is they don't play a national game."
Valdosta, however, isn't going to be intimidated on its home field. After all, it has won 23 state titles of its own. One of those was in 1998, when a powerhouse Lowndes team was favored to beat Valdosta and lost, 36-3.
"We're not afraid, but that doesn't mean we don't have respect for them. We do. We have a lot of respect for them," Valdosta coach Rick Tomberlin said of Lowndes. "There is no reason to be in awe of them. They are a part of us in the community."
Tomberlin said his team is going to have to play a physical game and not get pushed around in the trenches. Valdosta also can't afford to commit a lot of penalties or turnovers.
"We would like to get off to a fast start and score first, but if that doesn't happen we've still got to play," Tomberlin said. "We've got to be physical; we've got to be smart in terms of penalties and making decisions, and we have to protect the football and play good defense.
"We're a strong team physically. They are bigger than us. They are a strong team, but we are a physically strong team and it is something we work extra hard at - and maybe it will make a difference."
Valdosta also could catch a break if Lowndes hasn't mentally recovered from last week's big 24-7 victory over Northside Warner Robins. Lowndes coach Randy McPherson, however, does not think getting up for this rivalry game is going to be an issue.
"I'm sure they rested up this weekend," McPherson told the Valdosta Daily Times. "It's not hard to get the kids up for this game."
Game of the Week: No. 7 Lowndes Vikings vs Valdosta Wildcats
KEY TO THE GAME: Lowndes Vikings
The Vikings have a talent advantage. One way for that gap to close is with mistakes, fumbles, penalties, lack of intensity. Lowndes is coming off a big win last week over Northside Warner Robins, which was a highly-anticipated game. Have the Vikings come down from that?
KEY TO THE GAME: Valdosta Wildcats
Try and keep the Lowndes offense in a box, don't let the wing-T spread to the corners, box it in, snuff it with hats on the ball. Rally when things go bad, and they will. Valdosta prides itself on physical strength. Show it off with some rock-em, sock-em football and keep the ball from Lowndes.
Note: Playing effective run defense
Valdosta has to slow down Lowndes rush attack. Last week the Vikings totaled 234 yards of total offense in their win over Northside Warner Robins - all 234 yards were on the ground.