The region championship race, however, is another matter, and North Cobb has an opportunity this week, much like it did in 2012, to stake an early claim to the title.
The Warriors (5-1, 4-0) will host McEachern (7-0, 5-0) at Emory Sewell Stadium tonight with the outright region lead on the line.
North Cobb is currently in the toughest portion of its schedule with games against South Cobb, Hillgrove, McEachern and Marietta in a five-week period.
The 2012 state semifinalist split the same four games last year. The Warriors lost to South Cobb and McEachern, but defeated Hillgrove and Marietta. This season, after wins against the Eagles and the Hawks, North Cobb is halfway to running that table.
To get the third leg, all the Warriors will have to do is beat the second-ranked Indians — with dual-threat quarterback Ty Clemons, running back Taj Griffin, and defensive lineman Henry Famurewa, who leads Cobb County with 10 sacks this season, among the many Division I college prospects they have — on statewide television tonight.
“It’s easy to get excited for games like this that impact the seeding in the region,” North Cobb wide receiver and defensive back Cam Albright said. “To know we have a test in front of us to get ahead in the region race makes us practice harder and focus that much easier.
“It’s good to play these games back-to-back like this. That way, your mindset doesn’t go away. You know you have to take care of business and do what you have to do.”
Quarterback Tyler Queen, the Class AAAAAA all-state quarterback a year ago, agrees that the last few games have been big. In fact, he believes every game is a big game.
“The whole schedule is tough,” said Queen who has thrown for 1,120 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. “This is a tough region, and anybody can take the region on any given Friday. They’re all big games, and they’re especially big when you have Hillgrove and McEachern back-to-back. We just have to take every game one game at a time.”
Execution and focus have played a major role in North Cobb’s changing fortunes. The Warriors were a top 10-ranked team in the preseason according to the Georgia Sports Writers Association, but fell out of the poll following a 28-13 loss at Walton in the second game of the season.
North Cobb has won four in a row since then and is ranked eighth in Class AAAAAA.
Losing to the Raiders seems to have pushed all of the right buttons with North Cobb.
“(The Walton loss) really got us going, I think,” Albright said. “We had to replace a lot of seniors last year with some guys who are first-year starters. We had a lot of success as a team last year, and some of those guys probably thought that success would just be there again this year and stuff would be handed to them.
“Losing to Walton proved that wasn’t the case, and maybe opened up some eyes a little bit. It showed that we have to put the work in at practice every day and pay attention to the little details to be successful. Teams aren’t going to let us roll over them because we’re North Cobb. We have to work hard all the time to be the best North Cobb we can be.”
Queen also saw the loss as a springboard to the team’s recent winning streak.
“(Walton) was a disappointing loss,” Queen said. “I felt like we should have competed better. It was a wake-up call for us. We had to play our type of football and not last year’s and try to live up to what last year’s team did. It set our minds straight to move forward and not look back.”
North Cobb can make one of its biggest moves forward if it can topple McEachern tonight. The Warriors have gone undefeated in region play only four times in their history, and not since 2007. Beating the Indians would move them one step closer to reaching that goal again.
“There’s definitely a different energy at practice and at school and everybody at school is really excited about this game,” Queen said. “I feel like the team that makes the least mistakes will win the game. This is an exciting opportunity for us and we need to try and take advantage of it.”