With such a tight logjam atop the Region 8-6A football standings, even Gainesville High coach Bruce Miller isn’t entirely certain how the playoff seedings will shake out following Friday’s games.
But he’s sure of one thing — a win against Lanier will put the Red Elephants in the mix for a first-round home playoff game.
“Right now, we’re concentrating on this one game,” Miller said. “After it’s over, we’ll figure out who the next team is and what we have to do. I’ve always approached things like that. We don’t look too far ahead, kind of take it one game at a time. I know it’s an old cliche, but the most important game is the next one.”
That’s especially true during the final week of the regular season.
Gainesville (4-5, 3-1 region) is one of six area teams that can improve its playoff positioning with a win Friday night. Flowery Branch, Buford, Dawson County and White County will all be vying for region titles, while West Hall will look to upgrade its seeding from fourth to third.
In the Red Elephants’ case, their path to securing the No. 2 seed and a home playoff game includes a win against Lanier coupled with a Winder-Barrow loss to first-place Dacula. All four teams have qualified for the playoffs, but none are locked into a seed yet.
If both Gainesville and Winder-Barrow win, however, that would create a three-way tie atop the region with Dacula. Each team would be 4-1 in region play with a 1-1 mark against the other two, and Miller said he’s unsure what the tiebreaker would be.
The GHSA constitution is unclear on that point, simply stating, “In case there is a tie between three or more teams and there are spots for all the teams in the playoffs, the region shall decide the seeding of the tied teams.”
But, as Miller emphasized, the situation won’t occur unless the Red Elephants win Friday.
“We already told the players this week — if they didn’t know it already — that we’re playing for home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs,” the 16th-year coach said. “ After that, you take it one game at a time and see what comes next.”
Flowery Branch coach Ben Hall is using a different approach to his team’s regular-season finale, maintaining normalcy and downplaying the hype of Friday’s showdown with No. 3 Buford.
“As far as playing up to the stakes, I don’t do that,” Hall said. “I don’t believe any team really rises to meet the occasion. I think that consistent preparation (is key) … and these kids will play as well as you prepare. I try to avoid that adrenaline.”
Easier said than done.
The ninth-ranked Falcons and Wolves both enter the matchup with just one loss and a 5-0 mark in Region 8-5A, making Friday’s tussle in Flowery Branch the de facto championship game. Already guaranteed a home playoff game, Flowery Branch has a chance to win its first region title since 2012 and knock off the defending Class 5A state runner-up.
“(The kids are) not fools. They’ll see the crowd and know the environment,” said Hall, who has drastically reversed the Falcons’ course in his first year on the job. “They’ve played in big games this year, and they’re continuing the grow.”
West Hall, meanwhile, is trying to avoid a first-round trip to face region champion — which will likely be defending Class 4A state champion and No. 1 Cartersville.
The Spartans (5-4, 1-2 Region 7-4A) need a win against eighth-ranked Blessed Trinity to move up into the third seed. That result would also be beneficial for White County (7-2, 2-1), which in that scenario would win the region by beating No. 2 Marist.
Dawson County, which takes on No. 2 Greater Atlanta Christian for the Region 7-3A title, rounds out the list of area teams that can improve playoff seeding this week.
Region mates North Hall and East Hall are already locked into the third and fourth seeds, respectively.
Chestatee, Habersham Central, Johnson and Lumpkin County have all been eliminated from playoff contention. Lakeview Academy and Riverside Military sit outside the postseason cutoff in the Class A Private power ratings.
But for those squads like Gainesville that are still able to alter their playoff fortunes, a win Friday can make all the difference between an early postseason exit or a deep run.
“I don’t know many three- or four-seeds that win the state championship,” Miller said. “You need to have some of those games at home.”