Only this time, the shakeup between the pretenders and the contenders for state playoff spots will be even more jarring as the top six teams in the region standings all face each other with Harrison at McEachern, South Cobb at Hillgrove and North Cobb at Marietta.
With two games remaining for each team, Marietta can secure no worse than the No. 2 spot in the region with a victory over North Cobb, while the Warriors (6-2, 4-2) need a win to force a three-way tie for second with the Blue Devils (6-2, 5-1) and the winner of the South Cobb-Hillgrove contest.
Northcutt Stadium is expected to be loud and boisterous tonight with Marietta in a position of being the hunted, as opposed to a hunter, for a first-round home playoff game.
“We knew we had an opportunity slip through our fingers against McEachern,” Marietta coach Scott Burton said about the narrow 29-28 loss to the Indians in September. “That’s when we realized how fragile the season can be and knew that we had to commit to becoming better as a program.
“To some degree, it was a blessing in disguise. We’ve won four straight games, and hopefully we’ve learned from that experience. We’ve put ourselves in a position where another opportunity presents itself.”
Marietta’s opportunities have improved with the growth of its offense. Led by quarterback Anthony Jennings, an LSU commitment, the Blue Devils have yet to score less than 25 points in a game and has totaled more than 35 on four occasions.
Recently, a new threat has emerged in running back KirVonte Benson to complement Jennings and wide receivers Tyree Harris and Jordan Mathis. Benson’s role has expanded over the last few weeks, culminating in a breakout game for the sophomore in which he rushed for 168 yards and two touchdowns last week against South Cobb.
“For a 10th-grader, he’s one of the best I’ve seen in a longtime. He’s explosive and can run away from people,” North Cobb coach Shane Queen said.
“He’s a very good athlete,” Burton added. “Last year, he was one of the few ninth-graders to make the state in the 100 meters. He didn’t play football last year, so he’s still inexperienced. He doesn’t know how fast he can be, but he’s gotten better and has done a great job learning the position.
“For a kid that’s new to the game, learning to find running lanes and blocking and catching screen passes, that’s a challenge, but he’s growing well into that role.”
Benson’s emergence has made it that much more difficult for North Cobb to game-plan against Marietta.
“They’re tougher to prepare for,” Queen said about the Blue Devils’ offense. “We’re hoping the kids are studying lots of film to prepare for what Marietta can throw at us. It will be important for us to not give up the big play and to tackle well.”
Burton also sees his offense becoming what he hoped it would when the season started.
“I believe you have to have a strong running game,” he said, “With our veteran offensive line and the emergence of Benson, we’ve become more than a team that chucks the ball around.
“When opposing coaches look at us, I hope they see a diverse and versatile offense as well as one that will pose a challenge. It’s difficult to stop an offense with weapons, and hopefully we’re becoming an offense like that.”
North Cobb’s offense is no slouch either. The Warriors are averaging 41.3 points per game and have scored less than 40 points only twice this season. North Cobb has won four straight over the Blue Devils and trails the series 13-15.
“Both offenses have playmakers,” Queen said. “If you focus on one guy or another guy, then they have other guys that can beat you.”
Burton added that the offenses have guys who play well in space.
“When you spread teams out, teams don’t know what you’re plan is,” he said. “It’s difficult to defend diverse teams.
“With our defense going against our offense, it makes our defense better. I like where we’re progressing. We’re not peaking, but we’re identifying where we are. Our goal is to keep sharpening the pencil so we’re peaking at the right time.”