A victory would not only advance the sixth-ranked Longhorns (8-1) into another state playoff spot, it would give Kell its second region championship in three years.
The Longhorns won their first region title in 2010 and lost the region championship tiebreaker battle with East Paulding and Pope in 2011 after all three teams finished 5-1 in the standings. Cook blames himself for that missed opportunity, which would have meant Kell would be playing for its third straight region crown today against the Bulldogs (2-7).
“That one was my fault because I agreed to the tiebreaker rules,” Cook said. “It is what it is.”
Kell, Pope and East Paulding tied for the Region 5AAAA championship in 2011, but the tiebreaker was based on each team’s non-region record. The Longhorns finished 2-1 after losing to eventual Class AAAAA state champion Grayson and beating Class AAAAA teams Etowah and Woodstock. The Raiders beat three Class AAAA teams, while the Greyhounds also went 3-0 after topping Kennesaw Mountain and Wheeler and Class AAAA Villa Rica.
Pope then won the region championship by virtue of its 29-23 victory over East Paulding. The Raiders garnered region runner-up honors.
“So, in that regard, even though we weren’t region champions, we were co-champs, but lost out on the tiebreaker,” Cook said. “I guess playing non-region Class AAAAA teams and losing 7-0 to nationally-ranked Grayson who went on to win a state title, wasn’t the schedule I should have put together.”
Missed opportunities aside, Cook is grateful to be in this position for a third straight year.
“It’s great to be in this position,” he said. “And, we’re lucky to be here. Every team drew two teams from the other subregion from a hat to finish out the non-region schedule. So, we just happened to get Creekview, which led to this.
“We had a hard-fought game against (7AAAA (A) champion) Creekview, and fortunately that put us in this position that a win (today) gives us the region championship. If it weren’t for beating them head-to-head, we might not even be here.”
Only one season has passed since Kell’s last region title, and the similarities and differences between the 2010 and 2012 teams are evident.
Both squads have good leadership and good team speed. The 2010 team had 18 seniors, while there are 28. Both units had smart, academic players that learned quickly and picked up on what coaches were teaching them. Finally, both groups put in a tremendous amount of work in practice and played well as teammates.
“Probably the biggest difference is the 2010 team had a three-year starter at quarterback, and this year Matthew (McGuigan) is in his first year,” Cook said. “Our offensive line and linebackers were bigger then, but I think this year’s team has more overall team speed.
“These guys have developed themselves into above-average players, and that’s been a positive for us.”
All of the players on defense will need to be ready for Forsyth Central’s run-option, ball control offense that likes to chew up the clock. The Bulldogs will try to keep the Longhorns’ offense off the field, but Cook hopes it doesn’t come down to that.
“We have to be who we are,” he said. “I want us to take care of things early, and don’t wait for it to come down to something close at the end. That’s too risky for me. I like to know where we stand early.”