Over the first four weeks the Buccaneers (5-1, 5-1 Region 5AAAAA) were on the top of the hill, recording four wins and three by shutout. In week’s 5 and 6, Allatoona experienced violent twists and turns as the Buccaneers lost 48-45 in overtime to South Paulding, and then beat New Manchester 35-28.
Last week’s bye allowed Allatoona to catch its breath, and now it is about to enter the long dark tunnel of the season’s home stretch. How the Buccaneers come out is how they play the final four weeks of the season.
That trek starts with road games against Villa Rica (4-2) on Friday, and then Hiram (1-5) next week, but it’s hard to imagine Allatoona not having its final two home games circled on the calendar — North Paulding (6-1) and East Paulding (5-1). Those game will likely determine if the Buccaneers are region champions, or possibly, the No. 4 seed.
“The next four games determine everything,” Allatoona coach Gary Varner said, whose team has advanced to the state quarterfinals each of the last two seasons. “This is what we’re talking to the kids about. (Villa Rica) is a big (game) for us to try to get into the playoffs.”
Allatoona is a young team with only two starters from last year’s state quarterfinal squad returning on each side of the ball. However, it could be argued that this mostly inexperienced group of players has already played beyond expectations.
First thing’s first, the Buccaneers have to figure out Villa Rica, which earned its four wins against teams that have a combined 4-23 record. So, it is unknown if the Wildcats are that good, or if their record is a product of the teams they have played.
Varner said Villa Rica can disguise the run and the pass out of their shotgun formation to experienced receivers, which can confuse defenses. Defensively, Varner said they’re big up front, which could make running the ball a challenge.
Varner added Allatoona will worry about its two-game homestand against North Paulding and East Paulding that ends their regular season when the time comes.
“We’re not good enough to look at North Paulding right now,” Varner said. “East Paulding is really good, too. We know how the schedule pans out and we’re looking to get wins and sneak into the playoffs.”
Allatoona knew right away it had a scrappy defense when it posted shutouts in three of its first four games.
Offensively, running back Josh Bettistea helped the Buccaneers pick up right where they left off last year, when the team averaged 43.8 points a game. Bettistea is second in Cobb County with 1,057 yards and 17 touchdowns. He had 272 yards and five touchdowns in Allatoona’s 35-28 win over New Manchester.
Allatoona’s offensive line with Yoshi Nicholson, Amir Moore, Ameer Nadir, Camden Rhodes and Trevor Patrick may go down as one of the best Varner has coached, and quarterback Conner Larson as settled into his role. He has 543 passing yards with six touchdowns and just one interception.
Despite all the strengths, Allatoona has a few issues to correct in order to have success down the stretch.
One is to play consistently for all four quarters, and another is to finish games.
Allatoona’s loss to South Paulding last month is the best example. In that game, the Buccaneers lost a 14-point halftime lead, and a seven-point lead with 3 minutes left to play.
“I’m hoping we learned that when you play good teams, it’s four quarters,” Varner said. “(South Paulding) stepped up in the second half, we did not. It was a playoff atmosphere and our kids haven’t been in that kind of game before. I’m hoping we learned from it. We’ll find out.”