Winning in the playoffs is hard enough. Try doing it on the road.
The 2020 Georgia High School Association football playoffs are bearing that out once again. Of the 125 first round playoff games (three were canceled due to COVID-19) covering the GHSA’s eight classifications, 83 percent of the home teams got victories. Only two of the 64 region champions were ousted (Vidalia in Class 2A, Southeast Bulloch in Class 3A).
Classes 7A, 6A, 5A, 4A, A Private, and A Public each had all eight region champions advance to the second round. Classes 7A and 4A were the toughest road mountains to climb overall with just one lower seed each managing to get through to the Sweet 16.
Class 2A, which houses Rabun County, saw the most upsets with five lower seeded teams advancing, led by Bleckley County, which knocked off Region 2-2A champion Vidalia handily, 56-15. Lovett, Model, Bremen, and Early County also advanced as lower seeds. Several regions in 2A also proved their dominance as Regions 1-2A, 3-2A, and 5-2A all pushed three teams into the second round. No. 3-ranked Rabun County is the only Region 8-2A team left.
Classes 3A and A Private had the next most with four lower seeded teams advancing.
Upson-Lee took down Region 3-3A champ Southeast Bulloch while Dawson County out of Region 7-3A beat Adairsville on the road. Central-Macon advanced and Cedar Grove, the defending state champion, beat Monroe Area after it was knocked down to a No. 3 seed after having to forfeit several games because of an ineligible player. Region 2-3A swept out Region 3-3A while 5-2A and 7-3A both pushed three teams into the second round.
In Class A Private, St. Anne-Pacelli, Darlington, Stratford Academy, and George Walton all got upset wins.
Northeast Georgia area regions 8-4A and 7-3A both showed they could be considered among the best in the state sending three teams into the second round.
Jefferson coach Gene Cathcart said he was not surprised.
“We feel like we have a really good region and have teams and programs that are built to make playoff runs,” Cathcart said. “The four region playoff teams have shown that over the last several years, like Madison County did last year.”
So did Cherokee Bluff coach Tommy Jones, whose Bears got their first-ever playoff win last week.
“”(I’m) really not surprised that Region 7-3A came away with three big wins in the first round. I have a ton of respect for each of the teams in our region,” Jones said. “They are all extremely solid and well-coached, and every one has a very clear and specific identity that gives them a chance to make a playoff run.”
Which brings us to the second round. With half of the field gone after each round, the matchups typically become more even. However, home field advantage still matters in the Sweet 16.
In 2019, 70 percent of the home teams advanced to the quarterfinals. However, only 66 percent of region champions moved into the quarterfinals in 2019 -- just 32 of 48 region champs from Class 2A to Class 7A. Class A used power rankings to determine seedings.
“Home field is huge in the playoffs as familiarity is so important to young people, and as weather and temperature become issues,” Cathcart said. “It is so nice to be where you can address those as well as enjoy the crowd advantage that home field provides.”
Jones and the Bears needed the crowd and atmosphere at Yonah Field last week after falling behind early.
“Obviously, it's great to be playing at home in the playoffs. Our community has been ultra-supportive since Day 1 and they understand what it means to create a true home-field advantage,” Jones said. "It's an exciting time for the whole Bear Nation. Even more, it's nice to have some legitimate familiarity in our game-day routine.”
For the eight northeast Georgia area teams still alive this week, five will enjoy the comforts of home -- Buford in 6A, Jefferson in 4A, Cherokee Bluff in 3A, Rabun County in 2A, and Commerce in Class A Public. The other three - Flowery Branch in 4A and Dawson County and North Hall in 3A -- will see if they can buck the playoff trend.
With 64 total games across the eight classifications on Friday, there are 19 potential upsets, based on percentages, out there just waiting to be grabbed.
That’s certainly good news for Flowery Branch, Dawson County, and North Hall. It also means Buford, Jefferson, Bluff, Rabun County, and Commerce can’t rest on their laurels.
Knowing the area coaches, resting is not allowed during the playoffs.