The Heard County High School football coach and his Braves have been one and done in the postseason dating back to 2007, but riding a Region 5-AA championship and a wave of momentum into the 2012 Class AA state playoffs, Barron is looking to put an end to the first-round frustrations.
The top-seeded and sixth-ranked Braves open what they hope to be a deep playoff march tonight at 7:30 when they host fourth-seeded Rabun County at Staples Stadium, where they’ll try to reach Game 12 for the first time since 2006 and for the fourth time in Barron’s 11 seasons in Franklin.
The Heard County coaching staff tackled the issue in the offseason regarding what it was going to take to go into the playoffs with a more ideal situation — the Braves have been the lower seed in four of the past five playoff games, including a No. 4 seed three times — and with a No. 1 seed and sporting a 10-0 record, the brackets are set in the Braves’ favor.
“If we’re realistic with ourselves and what we’ve been over the past three or four years, it’s taken so much out of us just to get to the playoffs, that once we got there, I think we’d gotten everything out of the kids that we could get out of them,” Barron said. “So we’ve adapted our schedule throughout the whole year. Our focus point wasn’t on regular season. It was on keeping them healthy and let’s get them excited to be in the playoffs.”
On the flipside, Rabun County (6-4) is just happy to be invited to the dance this year following a 14-year postseason drought in Tiger. But under the direction of first-year coach Lee Shaw, who built Flowery Branch into a perennial playoff power before taking the Wildcat head job this year, Rabun County appears to be a program on the rise.
And with the Wildcats entering the contest jacked up on playoff fever, Barron said his team must do a better job handling its own emotions tonight.
“It hurt us against Bowdon [last week]. I think we let our emotions get to us at times. We had some dumb penalties and put ourselves in some bad situations because of it. Coming into a playoff game, we need to manage our emotions a little bit better than what we have,” Barron said. “If [Rabun County] comes out on an emotional high and has some success, we don’t need to hit the panic button. We just need to settle down and focus on playing football.”
While the Wildcats obviously don’t have any playoff experience among their players — Shaw has been to a state title game before with Flowery Branch — the Braves basically return their entire team that got a taste of the postseason last year in a 44-19 loss at Blessed Trinity.
“So to have that experience of going up to Blessed Trinity, it was a long travel and out of routine. You know, we ate at a nice place. We got more caught up in enjoying the atmosphere rather than playing a football game,” Barron said.
That’s why earning the regular-season region championship and No. 1 seed is so valuable at this time of the year, as the Braves will play in the comforts of Staples Stadium for at least the first two rounds — should they get past the Wildcats, of course.
“The good thing about being at home is we’re not getting out of routine. I think mentally they’re more prepared this year. They’re a more mature football team. They understand that, yeah, we’re excited to be here, but let’s not just be excited in making it. Let’s each week go out and put together our best possible football game. And if it happens to be good enough to keep us going, then great. But if we have to walk off the field, let’s do it playing our best football,” Barron said.
And coming off a remarkable regular-season run, the Braves now have a chance to do something really special in the second season and ultimately leave their mark in program history.
“I think it’s really sunk in for the senior class. If they go out on Friday night and are blessed enough to get a win, they would tie the all-time season record for wins with 11,” Barron said. “I think that’s a goal that the seniors want to be remembered as a special group. I think it’s important to them. That’s definitely in their thought process.”