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PREP FOOTBALL: Coosa, Pepperell working to stay calm heading into playoffs

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Coosa coach Todd Wheeler

Coosa head coach Todd Wheeler and the Eagles will make the trip to Elberton on Friday for the first round of the state playoffs. (File, Jeremy Stewart/RN-T.com)

Whether it’s playing in front of a home crowd, or playing on the other side of the state, each coach has their own way of coping with the first round of the state playoffs

Pepperell and Coosa are the two Floyd County teams from Region 7-AA set to start the postseason Friday, with the Dragons hosting Banks County and Coosa traveling to Elbert County. It’s the first challenge in what both coaches hope is a series of many.

After a pair of losing seasons that featured just three region victories, Coosa won four of its final five games and made the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

With nearly his entire squad coming in without playoff experience, Coosa coach Todd Wheeler has emphasized the bare reality of the postseason to each of his players.

“There’s only going to be one team left that finishes his season with a win,” Wheeler said. “And I’ve told them that. So they need to practice like this may be your last Monday, or this may be your last Tuesday. So let’s raise our level to that level.”

The Eagles (7-3) must travel three hours to get to Elberton on Friday night, easily their longest road trip of the season. Once there, they play a Blue Devils team that’s scored 30 points or more eight times this season.

“We are going to be who we are,” Wheeler said. “It is going to be an exciting atmosphere, and as I told the guys they get to play in the Granite Bowl, one of the state’s most historic stadiums. So we should take this almost as a reward.”

The situation is a bit different for the Pepperell Dragons, who finished region runners-up and will get to stay home for their game against the Leopards.

“For us, it’s just about sticking to the status quo,” Pepperell coach Rick Hurst said. “Sure the intensity picks up a little bit, but I’m an intense guy and this is an intense staff. We are taking it one game at a time, because we know how tough this is.”

Pepperell (7-3) takes on a Banks County team which despite going 5-5, won three of its final four games of the regular season. But with the way the Dragons have played recently, particularly on the rush defense, Hurst is confident they can handle the Leopards.

It’s the second season in a row Pepperell will host a playoff game, with the Dragons hosting a pair of playoff games last season after winning the region title. With a second place finish in region, their only guaranteed one playoff game for now.

And if this is its final game in Lindale this season, Pepperell intends to make it count. The Dragons have lost just once this year at home and is ready to feed off the crowd.

“A big goal the entire season was to get at least one playoff game at home. We want to reward our fans,” Hurst said. “That crowd powered us through playoff wins last year, and it certainly is going to be an advantage on Friday.”