The Buccaneers hadn’t really played anybody en route to their 2011 Region 7AAA championship, 12-1 record and trip to the Class AAA quarterfinals.
Allatoona’s offense last year was mainly 2,000-yard back Miles Jones and without him the team would struggle this season.
The Buccaneers’ move to Class AAAAA in 2012 would show the team’s flaws, and they wouldn’t be able to compete.
Allatoona proved all its naysayers wrong.
The Buccaneers’ upset victory at unbeated M.L. King in the second round of last week’s Class AAAAA state playoffs proved that this Allatoona team is for real.
Trailing 19-6 in the fourth quarter, the Region 5AAAAA runner-up Buccaneers (11-1) scored two touchdowns in the final 12 minutes to pull out the victory over the Region 6AAAAA champion, and advanced to today’s quarterfinal contest at Region 4AAAAA champion Whitewater.
The Buccaneers will have the challenge of trying to stop the Wildcats’ Kendall Conley, who rushed for 290 yards and five touchdowns last week in Whitewater’s 34-27 win over Glynn Academy. For the season, Conley has run for more than 1,900 yards and 34 touchdowns.
The game against the Wildcats (11-1) marks Allatoona’s second straight trip to the state quarterfinals, and it leaves the Buccaneers as the lone remaining team still alive from its region.
Beating M.L. King was a statement-defining win for the program.
“I would think it’s the biggest win we’ve had in our history, because it got us back to the final eight and because of who it was that we beat,” Allatoona coach Gary Varner said. “M.L. King is a known team in metro Atlanta and throughout the state. In the public’s eye, it was the biggest win for the program because of who they were.
“For me, it equals last year’s win because we get to the final eight again. It’s hard to compare (beating Mary Persons last year to beating M.L. King this year). It’s just that it was M.L. King, and beating them kind of put us on the map, so to speak.”
It also put Allatoona into the state quarterfinal round in consecutive seasons, which is a strong sign for the program.
“It feels really good,” Varner said. “And from a team standpoint, I feel really good for the seniors. They played with a chip on their shoulders all season. After losing last year’s senior class, most folks thought we wouldn’t be here after who we lost and the move to a different classification. It feels good to prove them wrong.
“Now, we have to see how we respond after that win.”
Allatoona’s 14-7 victory over Mary Persons in the second round last year led to a 32-28 setback at Burke County in the quarterfinals. The Buccaneers are in a similar position in its game at Whitewater with a berth to the final four on the line.
“There’s really no difference when you’re in it between the Class AAA playoffs and the Class AAAAA playoffs,” Varner said. “Each team is playing with their school population numbers, and you coach the kids you have available to you.”
Coaching has been a big part of each team’s success. Whitewater coach Amos McCreary has guided the Wildcats since their inception nine years ago. They’ve won a school-record 11 consecutive games this year and are in the quarterfinals for the first time in five state playoff appearances.
Allatoona’s experience playing in a quarterfinal could make the difference between advancing or seeing an end to the season.
“(Experience) may play a factor,” Varner said. “But they’re at home, have won 11 in a row and were in the playoffs two years ago. It will really come down to who makes the least mistakes.”
It might also come down to nerves. Allatoona has trailed by two touchdowns in its last two playoff games and came back to win both. Whitewater scored a game-winning touchdown last week against Glynn Academy with 20 seconds left on the clock.
“I don’t want us to make a living out of having to come from behind,” Varner said. “We’ve done that the last two games, but we pulled something good from it, which is confidence. That’s what they got too last week. There’s no panic even when you’re down, but you don’t want to keep putting yourself in that spot.”