BY JAMES COOK, Sports writer
---- — When Traverse City Central and Traverse City West tangle, there's often the "you can throw the records out" phrase tossed out there.
This time, neither team wants to do that.
Both enter the game at 4-1 and Friday's winner has a legit shot at winning out to finish 8-1 and hosting a playoff game at Thirlby Field.
Both teams put great offenses and defenses on the field. That means the whole game could come down to special teams.
TC Central has three touchdown punt returns this season — two by T.J. Schwannecke and one from T.J. Schepperley. Those two have combined to average 31.8 yards per punt return this season.
Teams started getting the memo and have been punting out of bounds to take away that weapon — to the extreme of Ogemaw Heights having its punter place the ball in the stands to make sure Central didn't get a back-breaking return. Even without much contribution from its special teams as a result, the Trojans won 49-21.
Central also needs this game a little more. Each squad has the same record at 4-1, but not the same schedule remaining.
West has 3-2 Petoskey, 2-3 Ogemaw Heights and 1-4 Adrian left — all games in which an oddsmaker would make the Titans double-digit favorites.
Central, meanwhile, has two games against top teams that can be a threat left. Detroit Jesuit's 2-3 record is deceiving, as all the teams it lost to are 4-1. And the Trojans still have Cadillac, which West handled 40-11, but remains a dangerous program as long as Jalen Brooks is behind center.
So with two dangerous dates left on the calendar, Central needs a win against West to virtually assure a playoff spot for the second time in Tom Passinault's tenure.
"It's the best Central team that I've seen, for sure," West coach Tim Wooer said. "Defensively, (Eric) Schugars and Konrad Visser and their staff has done a great job. And offensively Tom does a phenomenal job. They've got some explosive players, just like they always do. They always seem to have those fast, athletic players. They're going to give us a lot of things to think about. I'm sure they've got a few wrinkles for us."
TC West broke out one trick play last week — a Statue of Liberty-type play that resulted in a Griffin Forrester touchdown in the win over previously unbeaten Cadillac.
"You always have them ready when you need them," Wooer said of trick plays. "Fortunately, we haven't had a whole lot of need for them the last couple weeks."
West has been proficient passing the ball this season — averaging 170 yards a game and completing 69 percent of its passes — but look for the Titans to try to establish the run early and often. Fullback Grant Ellison was worked back into the lineup last week after missing time with a concussion, and he'll likely see a good number of carries along with Forrester.
As if it needed it, adding even more to this game is the debut of the Patriot Game. The schools and local car dealerships are selling T-shirts and are encouraging all fans at the game to wear red, white and blue to honor veterans and soldiers serving overseas.
You can throw out the records if you want to, but you might want to throw on your colors and head to Thirlby Field first.