J.I. Burton coach Jim Adams’ Raiders host the Thomas Walker Pioneers in a rare end-of-the-season game that will determine the district champion.
“It’s a game we want to win,” Adams said. “That’s a goal that we set every year: to win the district championship.”
A win by the Raiders (7-2, 4-0) gives them the outright regular- season Cumberland title. A win by the Pioneers (7-2, 3-1) gives them a share of the district crown.
But don’t forget Eastside.
The Spartans can also claim a share of the district championship if they beat Castlewood and Thomas Walker beats Burton on Friday.
The game also has added meaning for Burton because it’s Senior Night for the Raiders.
“We’ve put about as much emphasis on that as we have the district championship,” Adams said. “The reality of it is this will be the last Friday night that the seniors play at Lawson-Fitchko Stadium. Because going forward if we have a home game this (postseason), it will be on Saturday afternoon.”
The Raiders, guided by senior quarterback Houston Thacker, will clinch a home game for the Region 1D quarterfinals if they win Friday night.
Thacker has thrown for over 1,500 yards this season. Derrick Allen has been his primary target, although wingbacks Esau Teasley and Najee Steele get in on the action as well.
Teasley and Steele also complement Burton’s rushing attack, led by junior Mikey Culbertson.
Thomas Walker coach Nick Johnson is well aware of the Raiders’ offensive abilities.
“They’re impressive,” Johnson said. “Everybody knows the road to the Cumberland title runs through Norton.”
Thomas Walker’s overall record is the best for the Pioneers since they finished 10-2 in 1996.
“It’s kind of uncharted territory for us,” Johnson said.
As far as Thomas Walker’s chances of finishing the regular season 8-2, earning a district title and securing a home playoff game, Johnson said the Pioneers will have to be ready to play as soon as they hit the field.
“We can’t come out scared,” he said. “We can’t be tentative like we were when we lost to Eastside. We’ve got to come out and match them blow for blow.”
Thomas Walker will attack the Raiders behind the passing of freshman Zack Kidwell and the rushing of Dawson Lee. Kidwell has thrown for 680 yards and nine touchdowns, and Lee has run for 1,141 yards and seven touchdowns to go with 269 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
Kickoff at Lawson-Fitchko Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m.