With the 10th game of the season adding some meaning and five straight wins to lead up to the playoff push there is some excitement surrounding MZ (6-3, 4-1 Region 6A-A) that hasn't existed for a few years.
"I think the school has really gotten behind us. There's a spirit around here that might not have been here in the past. Winning breeds excitement and so far we've had that. It means a lot to our players to walk down the halls and have kids acknowledge them and pat them on the back," first year MZ coach Keith Holloway said.
The reason the Mt. Zion has a shot at the playoffs for the first time since 2005, is an overtime win against Trion and close wins against Darlington and Gordon Lee that won MZ the subregion. Now the playoffs are a game away and that's not something anyone is taking lightly.
"We're excited. At the beginning of the season our goal was to take it one game at a time. As we progressed and kept getting better then we started really thinking about playoffs. Now it's a goal the kids have set for themselves and we know that they're going to do everything they can in their power to reach that goal and make the playoffs," Holloway said.
Standing in the Ealges' way on Friday night is Mt. Paran (2-7, 2-3 Region 6B-A), the fourth team out of the other subregion. Mt. Paran was a seven-win playoff team last year which means Holloway and his staff aren't looking at just its record.
"Probably the best 2-7 team in Class A, I really think they may be. They have a great defense. They run a 3-5, they will move around and stunt a lot," Holloway said. "Offensively they run a multiple offense and give you a lot of different sets."
The MZ coach also noted a pair of backs Mt. Paran has that are both dangerous runners.
The new system in place for the playoffs in Class A this year hasn't been kind to Mt. Zion. The Georgia High School Association voted to split the public and private schools up for the playoffs in the state's lowest classification and introduced a power ranking system to determine which 16 public and which 16 private school teams would make the playoffs.
Currently MZ sits at No. 15 in the public schools with an 11.33 ranking. What has Mt. Zion on the edge is a pair of games that didn't count towards the power rankings because North Cobb Christian and Cross Keys do not play a region schedule. If those two games counted Mt. Zion would have a ranking of 12.50 and be in the No. 9 spot.
With some things going against MZ, it would make a playoff appearance that much sweeter.
"I think it does. Obviously under most circumstances we would already be locked in winning the subregion. For us to have to put our back against the wall and win another game to get in it makes us want to try that much harder to prove to the rest of the state that we're worthy of being one of the top 16 teams. The Georgia High School Association put this thing together thinking it was the fairest way to go and we understand that. At the same time it's going to have to be tweaked a little bit because it's obviously not fair to teams that were able to win in their region and because of non-region play it can hurt them and not get in," Holloway said.
One thing that did go Mt. Zion's way this year is the ability to play Friday's game at home. It was determined by the region that all the 6A-A teams would host Friday's games while the 6B-A teams will host the 10th game next year.
"It's always good to be at home. We love playing here, we're 3-1 here. We've got a real supportive fan base we know is behind us. It really helps these kids to know the people in the stands are pulling for them. Home field is home field, everybody wants it. We're proud that we have it this year," Holloway said.
But, even with two wins not counting towards its power ranking, MZ should make it in if they win on Friday. There is also a chance Mt. Zion could end up as Region 6-A champions, earn an automatic spot and higher seed in the tournament if Gordon Lee defeats Region 6B-A subregion champions Walker on Friday night.
"We think we can control our destiny as far as making the playoffs and we think we can do it on the field Friday night. Then there's always that long shot Gordon Lee could beat Walker and if we win be region champs and go in as a higher seed. We've got a lot on the line this week. I know the kids will be ready to play, the coaches are ready. We'll see what happens," Holloway said.