Sep. 1—Over the last couple of years, North Cobb has found some strange ways to lose big football games.
Up two scores with less than a minute to play against Roswell in the playoffs last year. In last year's season opener they turned the ball over three times against Buford in the third quarter and turned a potential blowout win into a painful loss. And two years ago special teams' miscues cost them a playoff win against Lowndes when the defense did not allow the Vikings offense to get past midfield until the fourth quarter.
In each case it seemed like one little thing caused all the good things the team had done to unravel.
That looked to be the case again during the season opener at Westlake. Again things began to go wrong and the Warriors found themselves trailing in the fourth quarter. But something different happened on the way to a potential loss. The team came together late and refused to lose.
"I told the team (on Monday after the game) the reason we won was all the little things we stressed during the offseason," coach Shane Queen said. "All those workouts, all those film sessions, all that work. Because of that, they expected to win."
While the 21-17 win wasn't one that Queen would put in the archives as one to emulate, maybe its one that he can pull out when things aren't going the way they are supposed to. There were lessons learned against the Lions that can help propel the Warriors forward, and more than anything it showed an internal fortitude on a level some within the program may not have seen before.
Now, two things need to happen. The players need to learn from those lessons, and they need to play their best game of football this week.
For the first time, No. 4 North Cobb will travel to play No. 1 Buford in Gwinnett County. The teams have split their two games the last two seasons — North Cobb winning in 2020 28-14 and the Wolves coming back to beat the Warriors with that big third quarter last year 35-27.
The winner will be the No. 1 team in the state next week. The programs know each other well. There will be no surprises. Queen said it will be no easy task.
"You have to match their physicality," he said. "Plus, you know you're going to have to do it for four quarters.
Buford, which has won 13 state title over the last 21 years in every classification from Class A to AAAAAA, comes into the game 2-0 after routing three-time defending Alabama state champion Thompson 38-7 in the opener, and then putting a 56-7 pasting on Mallard Creek from North Carolina. Those averages come out to 47 points per game on offense, while only allowing seven.
The Wolves, who are in their first season as a Class AAAAAAA program, are led by three-star quarterback Dylan Wittke, who is committed to Virginia Tech, and four-star running back Justice Haynes, a transfer from Blessed Trinity in the offseason, who is on his way to Alabama. LSU commit Paul Mubenga, another three-star recruit, is one of the anchors of the offensive line, and on defense App. St. commit Ryan McKinnis and Bowling Green commit Alijah Williams like to hit you from their linebacker positions. All of the above are seniors, but the real stars of the show may be Buford's junior class.
The Wolves have four four-star recruits in athlete KJ Bolden, defensive back Tyshun White and a pair of defensive ends who will try to make life miserable for North Cobb quarterback Malachi Singleton in Eddrick Houston and Kingjoseph Edwards.
It is a daunting task. Queen said its a game that makes him nervous, and with good reason. Some Power 5 teams don't have that kind of talent. But he also has two things working in his favor.
With players like Singleton, running backs Ben Hall, David Eziomume and David Mbadinga, defensive back Quentin Ajiero, offensive lineman Robert Grigsby and others, the Warriors can claim more talent than a lot of college teams, too. Plus, looking back at the Westlake game, Queen realized something else. The Lions, which destroyed perennial Class AAA playoff power Crisp County 47-7 last week, are a good football team, too.
North Cobb at Buford. It sets up to be a possible classic.
Now all the Warriors have to do is get it done.
John Bednarowski is the sports editor of the Marietta Daily Journal and former president of the Associated Press Sports Editors. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jbednarowski