They'll have to be at their best to play with Breathitt (4-0 overall, 1-0 district), the third-ranked team in the state in 3A and the prohibitive favorite in District 7.
Breathitt features a balanced attack led by senior quarterback Colby Fugate, senior wide receiver Rusty Herald and sophomore tailback Channing Fugate.
"They line up in all that spread stuff, but I think they run the ball best," Cawood coach Eric Perry said. "They want to run the zone play and run some traps and speed option. They'll throw it 10 to 15 times a game.
"They are very sound and disciplined. They are a really good team, but I think we can compete with them if we play like we're capable."
Breathitt County coach Mike Holcomb says his squad still has plenty of room for improvement, pointing to a young defense that still must improve in order for the Bobcats to compete for their fourth state title.
"We've played well, but we've had a lot of good things happen to us," he said. "We've still got to improve on defense. We just play three seniors on defense."
Cawood (2-2 overall, 0-1 district) was held to only 55 yards of offense in a 28-0 loss to Lee, Va., last week, a bad performance coming off the Trojans' best effort of the season a week earlier in a 34-29 win over Fleming County.
"They had a lot of speed defensively and brought some pressure with their backers," Perry said. "Our young kids kind of tripped out on that and weren't picking up the right guys.
"We're going to try and get more veteran players in there this week. We've been trying to get people reps and experience, but it's time to go with our best and see if we can compete."
The Breathitt coaching staff saw the Trojans' game against Fleming and was impressed.
"They look much-improved to me," Holcomb said. "They have a lot of kids coming back and are the typical hard-nosed kids who play extremely hard. They showed a lot of heart (against Fleming) to come back like that."
By upsetting Fleming, Cawood put itself in position for second place and a home playoff game. Another upset this week would likely give Cawood the regular season district title.
"They are still some other teams we have to play, but it very well could be the case," Perry said. "Our chances of winning it improve if we can pull this out."
Perry's defense last year at Harlan limited Breathitt to 19 points, and he said his unit this year has the potential to match that performance if several of the Trojans' young starters can continue to mature.
"I would think that, but we haven't shown to be able to do that," Perry said. "Personnel-wise, we have the kids that can do that. We are kind of limited with our size in the secondary. We have to be able to stop the run better."
Cawood was given a boost last week by the return of senior center Rick Clem to the lineup after he missed the first three games due to a back injury. Clem is expected to start at Breathitt.
Harlan at Pineville
With their first (regular season district title) and second (second place and a home playoff game) goals seemingly out of reach, the Harlan Green Dragons turn to their third option as they prepare for a 7:30 p.m. renewal on Friday of one of the region's oldest rivalries.
In order to extend its streak of playoff appearances to six, Harlan (0-4 overall, 0-2 district) must defeat Pineville (2-2 overall, 0-2 district) and Jenkins.
"I hate that must-win stuff this early in the year, but it's a game we're very capable of winning. We have to go down and execute, and I'm sure coach (Bart) Elam is telling his kids the game thing," Harlan coach J.B. Donahue said. "It's a must of who can out-execute who come Friday night."
The game may be even bigger for Pineville, which hasn't been to the playoffs since 2000, a streak that would end with wins over Harlan and Jenkins.
"If we can get this one and Jenkins, it sets us up for a 4 seed in the playoffs, and that would be a big thing for our program. It's an important game," Elam said. "We have to win a district game first and take it one step at a time."
The Mountain Lions lost their first two district games the last two weeks at Cumberland and Evarts.
"We've had two rough weeks, but we've played two real good football teams that play well at home, and it's a crazy atmosphere at their place," Elam said. "We're just glad to be back home for a few games and try to start over with a clean slate and play Harlan as hard as we can."
Even though Harlan is off to a slow start, Elam knows the Dragons remain a formidable opponent. Senior quarterback Chase Jones has led the Harlan offense with 288 yards passing, while senior tailback Hunter Luttrell leads the county in yards on the ground with 268.
"Obviously, they are bigger than us, but we've faced a lot of teams that are bigger than us, so that's no new thing," Elam said. "They're not as good with their specialty guys as last year, but they have the quarterback back and the receiver (Allen Hensley) and a couple of good running backs. They are still a solid football team."
Pineville has struggled offensively the past two weeks and was dominated at Evarts last week as the Wildcats held the Lions to minus-32 yards on the ground. Senior tailback T.J. Lord leads Pineville with 275 yards rushing. Junior quarterback Jon Stanley has completed 32 of 66 passes for 404 yards.
"Our offense played really well the first two games," Elam said. "I think part of it is my fault for trying to get too in-depth in the offense or throwing it down field a little too much. I think we need to get back to the basics and go in with a smaller game plan and try to do what we do well more. I put the blame right on my shoulders for that."
Donahue was impressed by the Lions' strong start, which included wins over Estill County and Berea.
"I think they are a much-improved football team," he said. "Coach Elam has done a good job and got the kids buying into his system and attempting to execute his system. They've done a pretty good job of it thus far."
Evarts at Jenkins
Evarts (4-0 overall, 2-0 district) can reach the halfway point of the regular season undefeated and lock up a playoff berth with a win over the Cavaliers.
Jenkins (1-3 overall, 0-2 district) was no match for Hazard and Cumberland the past two weeks and completes its slate of district favorites in Friday's 7:30 p.m. game.
Senior quarterback Chris Puckett and senior fullback Jonathan Taylor lead the Jenkins offense. Puckett passed for 137 yards last week in a 49-7 loss to Cumberland, completing 12 of 22 attempts. Taylor added 86 yards on six carries, including an 80-yard touchdown run.
"(Puckett) isn't a bad player, and Taylor is a pretty good player. We definitely have to stop those two," Evarts coach Ovie Canady said. "They threw to the tight end a lot against Cumberland, and we have to stop that."
Senior wide receiver Brandon Helton was the star for Evarts in last week's 47-17 win over Pineville, catching four passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns. Senior quarterback Derek Cochran (476 yards passing), junior fullback Glenn Roberts (245 yards rushing) and senior tailback Jimmy Langley (186 yards rushing) have also been consistent weapons on offense.
The Wildcats entered the Associated Press rankings this week at No. 10 in Class A, and Canady is warning his team about looking ahead to district showdowns later in the season against Hazard and Cumberland.
"I think we learned a good lesson last week against Pineville. Nobody is going to lay down for them," Canady said. "I was a little disappointed in a couple of our kids' efforts. I think they learned from that and know they have to play hard the next couple of games before they get to the big games."
Cumberland at Williamsburg
For the second time this season, the Cumberland Redskins will take on an old district rival when they travel to Williamsburg for a 7:30 matchup Friday.
Cumberland coach Jon Reynolds doesn't want a repeat of what happened three weeks ago, when the Skins lost 28-26 to Lynn Camp in overtime.
"It's still like a rivalry," Reynolds said. "When you play every year, you form those rivalries. You have to limit your mistakes. The last close game we were in, we turned the ball over too much and made too many stupid penalties, and it hurt us."
Unlike Lynn Camp, Williamsburg (3-1 overall, 1-0 district) features a pass-oriented offense that has already topped the 50-point plateau twice. Although the Jackets were hit hard by graduation, coach Jerry Herron has been pleased by their performance.
"We're young, and we've had a little bit of luck," he said. "The kids have played really well and executed the game plan. We've been real happy with our offensive line's production. When the offensive line does well, usually your skill positions look good."
Sophomore quarterback Ryan Moses has been impressive in his first season as a starter, completing 89 of 141 passes for 1,241 yards and 13 touchdowns, with only two interceptions. Junior wide receiver Aaron Brock leads in receptions with 24 for 513 yards, including eight touchdowns. Sophomore wide receiver Dusty Brown has 31 catches for 359 yards, and sophomore tight end Daniel Pettit has added 21 catches for 248 yards.
"They're scoring oodles of points," Reynolds said. "Anytime you get somebody who can throw the ball like (Moses) it makes it tough. He's what's making it go."
Reynolds learned something from last year's 48-41 loss to Williamsburg and has a different plan this time.
"Our focus is to stop the run and limit the pass," Reynolds said. "We want to keep them in front of us and limit their big-play capabilities and focus on stopping the run and, hopefully, make them have to pass to win."
The Jackets haven't been as effective on defense, giving up 152 points in four games. Junior linebacker Garrett Phillips and junior end Tyler Rollins have led the unit.
"We're starting five freshmen," Herron said. "We're trying to get our young kids some reps so they can help us in the playoffs."
Cumberland (3-1 overall, 2-0 district) features a strong 1-2 tandem in the backfield with juniors Nathaniel Gilliam (208 yards rushing) and Lance Simmons (190 yards rushing). Junior Blake Polson appears to have settled in as the quarterback after running for 101 yards and two touchdowns last week.
"They are big, fast and strong, and coach Reynolds does a good job with them," Herron said. "Offensively, we have to take what they give us. Defensively, we have to tackle and be where we're supposed to be and not give up big plays."