It's the final week of the regular season. Apache and Carnegie are ready to make a final push for the postseason. But for Apache, they enter the game with heavy hearts having lost a student team manager in a tragic car accident Monday.
"She was a big part of our team. We saw her every day. You know, she's going to be greatly missed," said Apache coach Larry McDaniel. "But these kids are trying to rally and get mentally focused to play this game Friday night and play it in her honor."
Each team is still alive in district A-2. Depending on what happens between Hollis and Cordell and district points, Carnegie could end up finishing second, third or fourth. Apache is in the running strictly for fourth. But both teams share the same fate, win or go home.
"Our playoff started this week. We're starting our playoffs a week early and every one of these players that's on this team have been a part of playoff teams. They know they've been part of really big games in playoffs in the past. This is no different," McDaniel said.
"It's a playoff game really, even though it's a regular season game, because the loser is going home and the winner going to get to proceed," said Carnegie coach Jim Harvey. "We can still finish as much as second in the district if the numbers go just right."
Apache has been a work in progress all year, but feel they have started clicking at the right time.
"You know it took us a while this year to kind of find our identity and find out who we are as a football team and what we're good at. I think we're kind of on the right track with doing that," McDaniel said. "The last few weeks we've played well. Put up some big numbers and kids are playing with more confidence."
"We never really been able to put it together yet and now, I'd say late in the season we've got everybody back. I think we've still got a chance to put it together and have a chance to compete for a playoff spot," Apache senior Dallas Nolan said.
Carnegie looks to lean on a big offensive line and running ability of Luke Kinder to get them a win.
"I'd probably have to say Luke, our running back. He keeps it going for us. And probably our line keeps the ball moving," Carnegie senior Gordon Williams said.
"They've provided running room for Luke, which he is a good running back. But they've provided those key blocks for him," Harvey said. "We have to be able to go down and put points on the scoreboard because we know they are able to point points on the scoreboard with their offense and their consistency."
"The Kinder kid is a great I back. Kind of takes you back to when we first started coaching, you know, back in the 90's we saw those big, powerful I-formation teams and Carnegie is just that," said McDaniel.
For Apache it's not about X's and O's. It's about coming together and fighting in wake of tragedy.
"We've actually had some upper classmen that's graduated have come back in to talk to these kids and be there for them in their time of need and to rally them together," McDaniel said. "I think they'll be playing with a purpose and a sense of pride and a sense of brotherhood that maybe they don't necessarily have every week."
Kick-off is set for 7:30 Friday night in Carnegie.