The more days they can practice after the holiday, the better.
Last year, Allatoona, Walker and North Cobb each found itself preparing for the third round of the playoffs, and the more teams that can have that kind of success, the closer a Cobb team will come to finally winning that elusive state championship.
“It can happen any year,” said Kell coach Derek Cook, whose team made the state quarterfinals in 2010. “North Cobb had a good run at it last year (making the state semifinals). We’re getting closer and closer. It’s a matter of time. It can possibly be this year, maybe next year.”
The county hasn’t won a state championship in football since Marietta accomplished the feat in 1967. That title is still the only Georgia High School Association championship Cobb has ever won. Lemon Street did win the Georgia Interscholastic Association title in 1966.
But this is not to say the county has not had its chances. In fact, Cobb County has had a team advance at least to the quarterfinals each of the last four years.
Walton had the most recent opportunity to break the streak when it advanced to the state finals in 2011, but the Raiders came up short against Grayson. Walton defeated Lassiter in the semifinals to advance to the title game, and the Raiders also had semifinal appearances in 2004 and ’07.
Harrison made the state finals in 2000, and McEachern was there in 1998.
Allatoona, which opened in 2008, has advanced to the state quarterfinals each of the last two seasons – once in Class AAA and once in AAAAA. Hillgrove made the quarterfinals in 2010, its first year in Class AAAAA, and Lassiter also had a quarterfinal run in 2009 behind record-setting quarterback Hutson Mason.
So, what are the obstacles that have prevented Cobb from producing a state champion?
Lassiter coach Jep Irwin said that Cobb County having smaller Class AAAAAA schools compared to Gwinnett County, which has produced a state champion in the highest classification each of the last three years.
“I do feel like the biggest schools in the state have the advantage when it comes to playing a 15-game schedule,” Irwin said. “Sometimes Cobb is at a disadvantage when we have to play a team with 39,000 students. That shows up sometimes in the playoffs.”
While it’s obvious Irwin was making light of the situation, he has a point. In the latest full-time equivalent numbers released by the Georgia High School Association, Mill Creek and Norcross – a pair of Gwinnett County schools – have the largest populations in the state at 3,708 and 3,649 students respectively. In fact, Gwinnett has the seven largest schools – all above 3,000 students – in the state. North Cobb is Cobb County’s largest at 2,782.
Allatoona coach Gary Varner said the opening of new schools may play a factor.
Harrison, North Cobb, Kennesaw Mountain, and McEachern all had their numbers take a hit when the combination of Kell, Hillgrove and Allatoona opening over the last decade. Add in Mount Paran Christian and North Cobb Christian starting football programs, and it’s easy to see why no Cobb school has approached the size of their Gwinnett counterparts.
“You’ve had so much transition after the new schools have opened,” Varner said. “We’ve built up and then broken off over the last couple of years. I think you will see a huge change in Cobb because everything is done.”
But what it ultimately comes down to is having the experience of going deep in the state playoffs.
Irwin said that there are factors that differentiate a state quarterfinal team to a state championship team. One is the fact that state championship teams usually have an experienced quarterback leading the offense.
He also said that the teams that go deep in the state playoffs are teams that are more complete, noting that lack a strong running game or a passing games are usually the ones that get exposed early.
“We were a complete team when we made the state playoffs two years ago,” Irwin said. “We had playmakers on offense and defense. You can’t be a team that just tries to win on offense or defense.”
North Cobb coach Shane Queen said getting beyond the state quarterfinals depends on the team peaking at the right time. Queen also said that luck can play a role in winning five straight playoff games.
The Warriors scored 42 points in their semifinal loss to Lovejoy and ended up losing the game by 21. He can only wonder how different it would be had North Cobb not turned the ball over five times.
“You have to be playing near-perfect football to have a chance to be successful (in the playoffs),” Queen said. “Teams that have been there have had a taste of success and it isn’t a culture shock when they get to the big games. Camden County and Colquitt seem to make a big run every year.”