The Battle for Highway 50: Another edition of the storied rivalry

Published 11:30 am Wednesday, October 11, 2023

LaFayette and Lanett have faced 52 times across their history. Perhaps no matchup has been as unique or meaningful as their battle this Friday. 

Lanett currently leads the series with 40 wins to LaFayette’s 11, with one matchup ending in a tie. Lanett has won six straight over LaFayette, with the Bulldogs last winning in 2016. Last season, the Panthers beat the Bulldogs 45-8. No extra motivation is needed for this week as both teams know what is on the line. 

“It’s the rivalry,” LaFayette coach Juan Williams said. “Everybody knows everybody, half of them are cousins. This is wanting to be the winner of the highway 50.” 

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“Don’t have to say much, it’s LaFayette dude,” Lanett coach Chip Seagle said. “If you need a pep talk or motivation to play LaFayette, and you’re a Lanett Panther, then your wood’s wet. These kids know what’s at stake.” 

The rivalry this season has major playoff implications. A loss means being eliminated from playoff contention, a win for either team leaves them a chance to fight for another week. 

Lanett is in a similar position to where they were last season. After losing four games in a row last season, the Panthers rattled off three straight wins to get into the playoffs. Now, after four straight losses, Lanett has a chance to repeat that success. 

“It’s a double big deal because we’ve got to win out to have a shot at the postseason,” Seagle said. “The kids are aware of that. We’re preparing and understanding that we’ve got a three-game season if we want to continue playing football.” 

Lanett is LaFayette’s true rival. The Panthers have three rivals, with those being Handley, Valley and the Bulldogs.
Which rivalry is the most important to Lanett depends solely on the person that you are talking to at that moment. 

“It’s a big deal,” Lanett coach Chip Seagle said. “I told the kids yesterday that I reckon it matters which ones you’ve got the most kin folks at.” 

LaFayette comes into the matchup with a 1-5 record. The Bulldogs have lost back-to-back games, and they are looking for something to spark their program. 

LaFayette has not made the playoffs since 2021. Friday is a good chance to get some confidence before the Bulldogs face Highland Home and Luverne. 

“Any win rejuvenates, it would really rejuvenate our program right now,” Williams said. “In the stage that we’re in right now, trying to get these young kids to know how to play, it would be big.” 

Lanett has used several different quarterbacks this season. Riontae Zeigler, Alajawon Whitfield and sophomore Fred Broughton have gotten snaps. Keondae Huguley has also played a good bit at quarterback, mostly in wildcat formations. 

Seagle is not ready, or willing, to name the starting quarterback for this Friday. All four of those athletes are set to play some role on Friday. 

Seagle believes that the depth at quarterback is better than most positions on the team. As iron sharpens iron, Seagle believes that this only stands to make the quarterbacks that much better. 

“They’ll have to figure that out for themselves,” Seagle said. “If the fans want to know, they’ll have to come to the game. That’s the reason when you watch the TV on Saturday those cats are so good. They’re getting reps against really good players at practice every week who are pushing them. I wish we were that deep at every position on our team.” 

LaFayette is set to get several players back from injury this week. Malik Burton, one of the leaders on both sides of the line, is expected to return. Tae Towles is going to be the starting quarterback. Towles has been fighting through injuries of his own. Both Towles and Burton are going to be the keys for the Bulldogs on offense. 

“We have to have great quarterback play,” Williams said. “Our line must continue to block well on Friday night,” 

The Panthers rely heavily on Whitfield to make plays in the secondary and at wideout. Whitfield has been dealing with an ankle injury, but he suited up last Friday and made several plays on defense. 

Seagle expects Whitfield to be closer to full strength this week, and Whitfield is going to be a key aspect of Lanett’s offense. 

“It’s always good when Won Won has a good game,” Seagle said. “He’s back healthy. We need him to do his thing. We’ll have everybody back.” 

Last season left a lot of uncertainty in the rivalry. Many of the players on both teams thought that it would be their last time facing one another. Now, LaFayette’s consolidation with Valley is imminent. Both teams know that the clock is ticking for them to make an impact in one of the biggest local rivalries. 

“You never know when your last chance to play them is,” Seagle said. “This could be it.” 

Huguley, KeJuan Greene and Whitfield are speedy playmakers with the ball. LaFayette does not expect to completely stop those guys, the Bulldogs just hope to slow them down. 

“Well, they have a lot of weapons,” Williams said. “I don’t know if we can stop them, we’re just going to try to slow them down. We’ve got to be good enough on offense to keep the ball out of their hands.”