Right now, it is looking as the region will have a large say as to which team is left standing at the end of the state playoffs in December.
So far, four teams — McEachern, North Cobb, Hillgrove and Marietta — have cracked the top 10 of the Georgia Sportswriters Association state Poll. Currently, North Cobb is ranked No. 5 and McEachern No. 7. If the poll was the top 11, Hillgrove would be ranked, and Marietta is also receving votes.
The Warriors surpassed McEachern, who was ranked No. 2 last week, after beating the Indians 28-26. The No. 5 ranking equals North Cobb’s highest regular-season ranking since being ranked No. 1 in 2007. Last season, the Warriors got as high as No. 5 and were No. 4 in the final rankings.
“This is a region that can prepare you for state,” North Cobb coach Shane Queen said. “The more competition you can play, the better for the kids down the stretch.”
McEachern has been among the top of the standings since 2009, winning region three times, but the Indians have yet to get out of the second round of the playoffs. North Cobb proved last year it is ready to play on the highest level in the state, advancing to the state semifinals for the first time since 1959.
Three years ago, Hillgrove advanced to the state quarterfinals and in 2011, the Hawks won their first region title with an undefeated regular season.
Marietta hasn’t had the success of the other three, yet. But all the Blue Devils did was go win at Lowndes last season.
That’s a resume of teams on the verge of bigger things. And it might have finally shifted the balance of power in Class AAAAAA from east Cobb to west.
Now all it needs is one of the teams to break through like Walton did two years ago and play for a state championship, or have two teams advance to the state semifinals like the Raiders and Lassiter did that same season.
However, there is one team trying to make Region 4AAAAAA a five-team discussion instead of four. Harrison is in position to turn everything upside down.
The Hoyas are 5-2, coming off a 4-6 season in 2012. Heading into its game against Hillgrove tonight, Harrison is tied for second in the region with the Hawks and McEachern, one game back of North Cobb, but one game ahead of Marietta.
“Every week is a new challenge,” Harrison coach Matt Dickmann said. “Anyone at any time can give anyone a game. It depends on who is consistent at the right time or who is not.
“The postseason definitely goes through the teams that were picked for state at the beginning of year. Those are the major four you have to go through, but all of us are fighting to get that other spot.”
Even the 4AAAAAA teams that seem destined to miss the playoffs are not devoid of talent. Campbell has one of Class AAAAAA’s best players in running back/defensive back Mike Rogers, a Central Florida commitment. South Cobb has North Carolina State commitment Justin Jones manning the defense, and Kennesaw Mountain is strong in the backfield behind Jamari Carter.
Things expect to get interesting in Region 4AAAAAA during the last quarter of the regular season.
North Cobb is in the driver’s seat, but challenges still await. The Warriors have to avoid a trap game tonight at Pebblebrook before hosting Marietta and wrapping up the regular season against Campbell.
A bye this week could work to McEachern’s advantage, even with the North Cobb loss lingering. It gives the Indians an extra week to recover and prepare for its late-season stretch against Harrison and Hillgrove.
Two of Hillgrove’s last three games are against Harrison and McEachern, an early taste of a postseason environment. Marietta is home against South Cobb tonight and on the road at North Cobb and Harrison.
“For us, fortunately, we’re healthy. That’s the good news,” Hillgrove coach Phil Ironside said. “You have to be smart with our practice schedule and stay fresh.”
But when it comes to the stretch run, Harrison has the most difficult road. It starts tonight at Hillgrove. Next week, the Hoyas will host McEachern before closing the season at home against Marietta.