Four teams — Hillgrove, McEachern, Kell and Mount Paran Christian — have reached the quarterfinal round of the state playoffs in the same season for the first time in county history. That’s quite an accomplishment considering only nine schools qualified for postseason play this year.
“A couple of years ago, we had a record number of teams make it to the postseason,” said Kell coach Derek Cook, who will guide his second-ranked Longhorns (12-0) into a Class AAAAA battle against fifth-ranked Warner-Robins (11-1) at Cobb Energy/Corky Kell Stadium. “Now, we have a record number advancing further than we’ve had before. We’re honored to be a part of it.”
Three teams advanced to the quarterfinals in 2012 and 2011, and two reached that mark in 2010. This year also marked the fifth straight season at least one local team has moved on to a quarterfinal round.
In 2011, Cobb County qualified a record 12 teams into the postseason, and now another benchmark moment has been reached for the area.
Kell has made the playoffs in each of Cook’s six seasons as coach. His 2010 team also advanced to the quarterfinals.
“Back then, playing in the quarterfinals was a completely new experience for us in terms of playoff success,” he said. “We were used to being in the playoffs beyond the first round, but we hadn’t gotten to that point until then.
“Now, the guys know how to manage those emotions and those expectations and that level of success.”
It’s a different story for Mount Paran Christian. The Eagles, who are in the postseason for the third time in four years, are in the quarterfinals for the first time. Mount Paran (9-2), which is the No 6 seed in the Class A private- school playoffs, visits No. 3 Aquinas (11-0).
“We’re happy to be a part of the history Cobb County is making,” Mount Paran coach Mitch Jordan said. “You need the right mix and the right chemistry of players to make a deep run in the playoffs and we’re fortunate to be in this position.”
Although it’s had a plethora of state playoff appearances, the last time McEachern reached the quarterfinal round was in 1999. The Indians (10-2) visit sixth-ranked Collins Hill (11-1) looking to move into the semifinals for the first time since 1998 — the year McEachern lost 21-7 to Valdosta in the Class AAAA state championship.
“Our team has played well,” ‘McEachern coach Kyle Hockman said of the Indians’ postseason success. “They continue to battle regardless of the injuries and other adversity. They’ve come together and I think they’re hitting their stride.”
Like Kell, Hillgrove is also no stranger to recent quarterfinal success. The eighth-ranked Hawks (11-1) host fourth-ranked North Gwinnett (11-1). Hillgrove is in the round of eight for the second time in four years, having reached the quarterfinals in 2010 along with Kell.
“It’s great to be in the company of all of these great teams,” Jordan said. “McEachern is such a storied program and (Hillgrove) coach (Phil) Ironside and coach Cook have been able to build their programs into consistent winners as well.
“Being able to represent Cobb County along with those guys and coach Hockman is a great honor.”
Jordan acknowledged that this achievement is long overdue for the county.
“Gwinnett (County programs) get a lot of press for their accomplishments and it’s well-deserved,” he said. “It’s great for Cobb County football to do what we’re doing as we continue to get better and better every year.
“We have great coaches coming in and great players and that helps to continue to raise the bar for all of our programs. It raises the level of play, and we’re happy to be a part of that.”
Cook looks at the milestone as a stepping stone for the future.
“I’m looking at this as becoming more of the norm and not a once in a lifetime thing,” he said. “We have great coaches and the players are continually improving so it’s only a matter of time before one of our teams goes all the way and gets a state championship.
“Getting these teams to the quarterfinals is long overdue, but it’s an honor that has to be earned. There’s a reason it hadn’t happened yet until now, now we have to remain consistent with it.”