Game: North Cobb (6-3, 2-2) at Hillgrove (7-2, 2-2), 7:30 p.m.
Last year: Hillgrove 21, North Cobb 14
All-time series: Hillgrove leads 5-4
Prediction: Hillgrove 38, North Cobb 31
Regardless of the outcome of Friday’s matchup between Hillgrove and North Cobb, both teams will be in the state playoffs.
The final regular season game will decide, however, which team will, theoretically, have an easier path through the gauntlet that is the AAAAAAA playoffs. The winner will claim third place in Region 3AAAAAAA and the loser will drop to fourth, the final playoff spot and a lower seed in the playoff bracket.
For Hillgrove coach Phil Ironside, it’s not the difference in seed that has him looking at this game as an important one, but the momentum his team can regain after losing last week at Marietta. North Cobb coach Shane Queen sees things in a similar way.
“Pick your poison,” Queen said. “You either go to Colquitt or you go to Lowndes. I don’t know if one is easier than the other, but just finding some success going into the playoffs, you want to play well going into game 11. Our kids aren’t complacent just getting there, we want to go and have some success. To do that, I think you have to play well in game 10 leading into the playoffs.”
For one side to regain that momentum, they’ll have to navigate a head-to-head series that has been tightly contested since it was first played in 2010.
“We’re going to need to be focused and ready to play,” Ironside said. “North Cobb is good, they really had us beat last year and we were an undefeated team. It seems like every year that we play them it’s a war. You’re not going to come sleepwalk through it.”
Hillgrove is preparing for a North Cobb running attack that gets all eleven players involved by using quarterbacks Trevor Lovett and Malachi Singleton to carry the football. The two have combined for 770 rushing yards this year and the Hawks are making stopping them a priority.
Defensively, North Cobb plays a lot of man coverage, sacrificing defenders in the secondary to put pressure on the quarterback. This seems to favor Hillgrove, who excel in the short passing game with the county’s third leading passer Matthew McCravy distributing the ball.
“We’re working some things there,” Ironside said. “I think Matthew has played well and we’ve got some receivers that are playing well. We hope to get our run game going but we’ve been more of an outside in offense than working inside out.”
North Cobb wants to get back its identity as a physical football team that Queen feels it has gotten away from the last two weeks against Marietta and McEachern. Turnovers were also a problem against McEachern, something Queen knows has to be cleaned up before the inevitable road playoff game.
“Be more consistent,” Queen said. “Don’t beat yourself, don’t turn the ball over. You can’t do that against the Mariettas, the McEacherns, and the Hillgroves or you’re not going to be successful at the end of the night.”