The reward for the No. 3 seeded Greyhounds (7-3) is a matchup against ninth-ranked Region 6AAAAA runner-up Stephenson (7-2) in the first round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs.
The contest is slated for Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Hallford Stadium in Clarkston.
“I think it’s a huge difference to have to play this game on Saturday instead of Friday,” Pope coach Matt Kemper said. “They’re used to doing it, we aren’t. So, they already have a little advantage over us.”
Stephenson is one of five DeKalb County teams to make the playoffs, and because the county uses municipal stadiums, the Greyhounds’ matchup against the Jaguars was moved to Saturday. M.L. King hosts Sequoyah at Hallford Stadium tonight.
Stephenson has lost its first-round playoff game in four of the last five years, but that was when Class AAAAA was the highest classification in the state.
Pope has proven over the last three years that it can compete. Kemper, who is in his fifth season at the helm, has posted four consecutive winning seasons.
“This is our third year in the playoffs and I’m happy about that for our kids, for our fans and for this program,” Kemper said. “We lost some really talented players last year, and I knew we’d have to be a team led by our defense this season. The kids have done a great job understanding that and playing well, while our young guys on offense moved the ball to get us in position to score a couple of times. It worked out.”
Things weren’t working so well for Pope the first two weeks of the season. The Greyhounds fell behind Marietta before suffering a season-opening 27-7 setback at home. The following week, Pope got hit hard by Wheeler in a 33-0 loss.
Pope’s future turned around in Game 3 with a 20-17 overtime win. That victory catapulted the Greyhounds to their first of six consecutive wins and seven victories in their last eight games.
In order to top Stephenson on Saturday, Pope will need to have the same drive that led to its winning ways.
“Stephenson is a very good team with a coach that has done amazing things there,” said Kemper about the Jaguars’ longtime coach, Ron Gartrell, who has helmed the team for 17 seasons and made 13 straight playoff appearances. “He started the program down there and the guy has sent an incredible number of kids on to college and even some to the NFL.”
Stephenson is expected to run a multiple formation offense along with a 4-3 defense. Pope has prepared for what the Jaguars plan to present and will need to execute well and avoid turnovers to win.
“They’ll run a spread, empty backfield, I-formation, one-back set — they run everything,” Kemper said. “They have great linebackers who play fast in their system, and they have big players on both sides of the ball in one of the toughest regions in the state.
“They’re an amazing football team that’s disciplined and plays hard. We’re going to have our hands full down there.”