Those programs — joined by fellow postseason qualifiers Hillgrove, Harrison, Marietta, Walton and Kell — have a reputation to regain after Cobb County failed to put a team in the semifinals for the first time since 1994.
While that distinction ended a long run for the county, Marietta’s appearance in the playoffs closes out a run that is even more remarkable.
The Region 4AAAAAA runner-up will host Camden County (15-10) — the Blue Devils’ first time in the playoffs since 2004, and the first time the program has ever hosted a playoff game.
“I’m in my fourth year as head coach, and this is the first time we’ve been to the playoffs,” coach Chris Stafford said. “And, to my knowledge, we’ve only been a 3 or a 4 seed in the playoffs in our history.
“Around 10 years ago was the last time we were in the playoffs, and we’ve gone as far back as 1980, and a little further than that. We’ve spoken with alumni, and the dads of alumni, and this seems to be the case. We’ve never hosted as far as we can tell.”
Home games have been a boost for Marietta (19-7) this season, which Stafford hopes will continue.
“Playing at home has been a big benefit,” he said. “We’ve had a good year overall, but we’ve been tough at home. To have our families and the student body, and the kids from our feeder programs, here cheering us on is going to be an advantage for us, I believe.”
McEachern will also play its first-round series at home, while Region 4AAAAAA rivals Harrison and Hillgrove will be on the road.
A No. 4 seed last year, McEachern (22-4) returns as a region champion, having won and 15 of its last 16 games for first-year coach Dan Torrenti. The Indians will host Tift County (15-9).
Third-seeded Harrison (14-12), which has made the playoffs in eight of the last nine seasons, will visit Colquitt County (15-9). Fourth-seeded Hillgrove (14-12), making its fourth straight playoff appearance, will be at Lowndes (17-8).
Walton (19-7) was the lone local team from Region 5AAAAAA to make the playoffs. The second-seeded Raiders, who are in the playoffs for the third straight season, will host South Gwinnett (20-6).
“We’re a solid club playing good team ball right now,” Walton coach Shane Amos said. “South Gwinnett may be a 3 seed, but they’ve won 20 games. They’re from a region where the top four are pretty good, so I expect it to be a hard-fought series.”
Region 7AAAAA champion Pope (18-8) will host Arabia Mountain (17-5-1).
Coach Jeff Rowland, who led the Greyhounds to their fifth straight playoff berth, believes region play prepared his team for the postseason. Seven of the region’s 11 teams had winning records, and eight had 10 or more wins in region play.
“You had to play hard every night in our region because the competition was that good,” Rowland said. “There were no days off. Hopefully, we’re battle-tested from that and ready to go.
“We’re going to have to play our game and not worry about our opponent. Arabia Mountain is a fairly new school, but they’re not new to the playoffs. It will be our first time playing them, but they know how to win, so focusing on what we can do well will be our focus.”
Kell (16-9), the No. 3 seed from Region 7AAAAA, is back in the playoffs after a one-year absence and looking to extend the career of retiring coach Donnie English. The Longhorns will visit North Atlanta (17-7).
Region 6A champion Mount Paran Christian (22-2) has won 12 straight as it enters its first-round playoff series hosting Aquinas (14-9). The Eagles, who are in the playoffs for the third consecutive season, have the third-best power ranking among Class A private schools.