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Posted: Wednesday, November 27th 2013 at 8:11am

PLAYOFF NOTEBOOK: Being at home anything but safe in AAAAAA

By Jeff Hart Staff
EMAIL STORY CONTACT EDITOR PRINT
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North Gwinnett coach Bob Shire
Typically, homefield advantage in the playoffs is worth its weight in gold. Not so this playoff season, especially in Class AAAAAA.

Norcross out of Region 7-AAAAAA is the only No. 1 seed left in Class AAAAAA as the quarterfinals get under way Friday around the state. In fact, three of the eight teams left in the Class AAAAAA playoffs are No. 3 seeds, including North Gwinnett, which takes on Hillgrove, the No. 2 seed from Region 4-AAAAAA, in Powder Springs.

The road team went 5-3 last week in the Sweet 16 in Class AAAAAA, which means either the home teams are due for a rebound or they better be wary. Road teams have gone 10-14 in the first two rounds in AAAAAA, the most by any classification to this point in the playoffs.

It promises to be an interesting weekend with Gainesville and Buford playing host to quarterfinal games and North Gwinnett and Jefferson hitting the road again.

ROAD WARRIORS: North Gwinnett has been outstanding on the road the last two years. The Bulldogs are 7-0 on the road this year and 12-1 since the beginning of the 2012 season, with their only loss coming to Lovejoy last year in the quarterfinals. But, they also have not advanced past the quarterfinals since 2007 when they made it all the way to the championship game. They are 1-4 all-time in the quarterfinal round.

The proved they are as tough as the Mel Gibson, Man With No Name character kicking a field goal with seven seconds left to beat undefeated Archer, 34-32, last week. They trailed big early, scored 24 unanswered points to take the lead, fell behind again, and then engineered a game-winning drive in the final minute.

North Gwinnett coach Bob Sphire said before the playoffs began that he felt homefield was overrated.

"It's about matchups and players and how they respond," he said two weeks ago as they prepared to take on Milton in the first round. "We feel confident on the road just as much as being at home. I think we'll show we can win on the road."

Mission accomplished so far.

DEJA VU: Jefferson appears to be following a similar path as last season when it won the state title. The Dragons survived a wild three overtime game against Fitzgerald in the quarterfinals last year and needed a late fourth quarter rally last week to beat Heard County 61-57 in the second round. It was also their first-ever road state playoff win in program history, which should give them some confidence against a Lamar County team that has won 14 straight at home going back to the 2012 season.

However, the Trojans last home loss came in the quarterfinal round to Appling County in 2011. Class AA has been tough on the road team this year with just two non-No. 1 seeds left, Jefferson and Bowden. Road teams are just 4-20 in the playoffs in Class AA in 2013.

Jefferson coach Ben Hall said last week that last year's run to the title has given them added experience of what to expect.

"We knew it would be tough but we just stayed calm and knew what we needed to do to win. No one panicked," Hall said about last week's remarkable rally.

HOME COOKING: Class AAAAA, meanwhile, has stayed nearly perfect with seven of the eight No. 1 seeds still alive, including Gainesville. The only team to pull off a road win last week in AAAAA was Mundy’s Mill, which travels to City Park Friday night. It was the Tigers’ first-ever road playoff win and they have won three straight on the road this year after beginning the year with three straight road losses. Gainesville has been nearly unbeatable at home the last three seasons going 18-4 since 2011.

HOME COOKING 2: In Class AAA, Buford has won 13 straight at Tom Riden Stadium since falling to Gainesville last year. Carver-Columbus, however, is not your average road team. The Tigers are 12-2 on the road and have not lost to a Class AAA team on the road since losing to Buford at Tom Riden back in 2011. Both of their losses in that span were to Class AAAAAA Colquitt County.
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