Editor's note: This story is featured in the Daily Citizen-News' weekly high school football Touchdown! section. Grab an issue in papers on Fridays during football season, or stop by our office for a copy.
So what exactly is football weather?
Though participants and spectators might hope for pleasant temperatures, the reality for the area's seven football teams is not always cool and crisp autumn nights. From hot and sticky high-90s at the beginning of the season in August, the weather eventually shifts to much, much cooler.
The temperature is expected to be in the mid-40s when tonight's games are scheduled to kick off, and throughout the season, there have been a few rain and lightning mishaps, too. After last week's downpour, football coaches and players across Whitfield and Murray counties know they must expect a multitude of conditions when Friday night rolls around each week.
"When I think about football weather, I think about the cold even though we hardly play any games in the cold," Southeast Whitfield coach Sean Gray said. "It's the playoff games at the end of the season when the stands are packed and it's usually cold. Those are the most memorable. Most kids are getting outside and throwing a football around when it's nice and the leaves are falling, too."
The Raiders (0-8, 0-4 in Region 6-4A) will not make the playoffs this season, but have the chance to upset the seeding for their county and region rival tonight at 7:30 when they host Northwest Whitfield (6-2, 3-1 in Region 6-4A). Both teams should have a much different game plan tonight after very wet, messy games last Friday.
The Bruins survived Gilmer in a mudfest on their home field last week, 6-0, but not before rain caused the field to sink in multiple spots, creating pockets of splattering mud. Coach Josh Robinson said after so much damage, the field is scheduled to have the divots rolled out before the Bruins return home for their regular-season finale in two weeks against Heritage. With a win tonight, Northwest will play Heritage for the region championship and the No. 1 spot heading into the playoffs.
Though cool air should be around for tonight, this year's temperatures remained sweltering into October.
It's something Robinson still has in the back of his mind.
"The whole time it stayed that hot, I was thinking about how it was probably going to be freezing at the end so I'm surprised it has taken this long to get there," Robinson said. "I don't really consider (tonight's temperatures) to be freezing, but you do have to take into consideration how these kids are used to 95-degree weather.
"Then again, football season for me starts in the middle of summer, where the typical fan is not going to show up until August. For the first time in about four years, we went into the gym a few times to practice because it was so hot."
The Raiders are coming off a loss to Heritage on the road, 12-0, in which they played one of their best games of the season, Gray said.
"I love those kind of games, and I think especially the older kids got into it and enjoyed the mud," he said. "Anytime the conditions are that bad, you're usually going to have a low-scoring game, and bad weather always helps the underdog. It gives you a chance."
Gray said his team entered last week's game as a 36-point underdog, but ended up holding Heritage to just a 6-0 lead heading into the final period.
"At the beginning of the fourth quarter, we were on the 5-yard line knowing that if we scored and somehow made the extra point -- which would have been hard because of the weather -- we're ahead," he said. "They hated to lose, but I can't tell you how many kids have come up to me since then and told me that was the most fun they've ever had in a game.
"I told the kids, when I was younger I didn't dream of playing football in 100-degree weather. I dreamed of muddy, wet, cold. This is what football is supposed to be."
Christian Heritage narrowly avoided the rain last week after traveling near Atlanta to face North Cobb Christian. The Lions (7-1, 4-1 in Region 6-A) escaped with a win, 21-20, thanks to a blocked extra point from Gage Leonard late in the game.
"When we pulled in the parking lot, I checked the weather and it said cloudy from 7 p.m. to 10," coach Jay Poag said. "As soon the game ended, then came the rain. We got really lucky."
Poag was still prepared, however.
"From a coach's standpoint where your budget is so important, you can ruin a whole set of uniforms. We went down there expecting for it to be ugly," he said. "We wore old uniforms and we took a whole other set of uniforms because we planned to change at halftime and come out in dry clothes. We just never needed to. We took everything we owned -- every football, every towel."
Poag said his players and coaches should be ready for tonight's changing conditions, as well.
"It's always puzzled me why people practice after school every day," he said. "Catching, throwing and everything is different during the night sky than it is right after school when the sun is out. We go to practice at 6 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, and then in the morning on Thursdays when it's pitch black. That way you don't have to say a whole bunch because they are already acclimated to it.
"It's funny, too, because just before the season starts I order apparel for the coaches to wear during games -- when I used to do it I would load up on long-sleeve stuff and sweats and we never wore them. It's all short-sleeve stuff now. I learned maybe toward the end of the season you might need to break out a sweatshirt or something."
Gordon Lee, which has a turf field, suspended its game from last Friday because its field was under water. After making up the game on Monday, it will now play twice in one week when it visits Christian Heritage tonight at 7:30 for the Lions' senior night. Gordon Lee (3-5, 1-4 in Region 6-A) is looking for an upset as it currently sits in the 24th spot of the Class A-Public power ratings, with the top 24 teams earning a playoff berth.
"If they win they are in, if they lose they are out," Poag said. "So they've got a lot on the line."
With lots at stake for multiple area teams heading into tonight and the remainder of the season, there's one thing they can do to deal with the ever-changing conditions.
"When it's cold, it feels like you're just more ready to go and you have to," Northwest sophomore receiver Keaton McQuaig said. "It's like it gets you more hyped up to play."
Teammate Logan Akins agreed.
"You keep going out and you keep practicing no matter what," he said. "That's basically all you can do."
TONIGHT'S OTHER GAMES
Sonoraville (4-4, 3-3 in Region 6-3A) at Coahulla Creek (1-7, 0-6 in Region 6-3A), 7:30 p.m.
The Colts fell to Calhoun last Friday night, 46-6, with the only score coming from Ethan Burse on a 75-yard touchdown pass from Mason Turner.
Sonoraville fell to Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe last week, 27-26.
Last meeting: Sonoraville won in 2018, 19-8.
Allatoona (5-2-1, 5-1 in Region 6-6A) at Dalton (6-2, 4-2 in Region 6-6A), 7:30 p.m.
Dalton needs a win for a chance to host a first-round playoff game.
The Catamounts would likely secure the No. 2 spot in the region with wins over Allatoona and next week over Osborne. They are coming off a bye week after falling to Sprayberry on Oct. 18, 20-17.
Allatoona defeated Osborne last week, 45-6.
Last meeting: Allatoona won in 2018, 27-14.
North Murray (7-1, 6-0 in Region 6-3A) at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe (4-4, 4-2 in Region 6-3A), 7:30 p.m.
North Murray can clinch its first region title in school history with a win at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe.
The Mountaineers need at least one win in their next two games for the title. They are coming off a bye week after defeating Haralson County on the road on Oct. 18, 32-15.
Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe defeated Sonoraville last week, 27-26.
Last meeting: Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe won in 2018, 19-9.