TRENTON, Ga. -- The GHSA Class AA football playoff bracket is full of the usual big-name programs hosting first-round games -- Calhoun, Lovett, Greater Atlanta Christian, Lamar County, etc.
And then there's Dade County.
Dade's Wolverines, thanks to a physical win over Model last week, arguably are the most surprising first-round host in the state after finishing the regular season 7-3 in second place to Calhoun in Region 7-AA. It's a role head coach and former player (at the former Northwest Georgia High School) Bradley Warren embraces and one he hopes his players relish.
"That's just more fuel for the fire," Warren said of being a playoff underdog. "Everybody points to the Atlanta regions as being strong, and they are, but you can't rate us as being a bad region. Calhoun is the cream of the crop in our region, no doubt, but this region is very competitive. Our kids hear the talk and I hope it motivates them."
The Wolverines, who have hosted only one other playoff game and own just one postseason win (on the road in 2010), are perhaps a year ahead of schedule. A team loaded with talented underclassmen and only seven senior starters has earned the home playoff game the old fashioned way -- executing and being more physical than most of its opponents.
The 13-3 win over Model, secured by a defensive touchdown, was a prime example of a team finding a way to win despite its athletic shortcomings. The Wolverines allowed only seven first downs while rushing for 230 yards.
"It was a very big win for us," said senior linebacker Grayson Sharp. "We just played hard and didn't stop until the job was done. That's the only way we know how to play."
It hasn't all been smooth sailing this year. Coming off a 3-7 season in 2012, Dade had an impressive early-region win over Pepperell but fell flat the next week against Coosa, 26-0. Warren and his senior leaders believe that loss was the key moment in the season.
"We played terrible against Coosa," Warren said. "It was plain to see we hadn't learned from our mistakes earlier in the year. I was glad to see a few weeks later that we didn't make that same mistake again."
Added senior linebacker Tanner Avery: "We started getting comfortable after we beat Pepperell, but once Coosa beat us we realized we couldn't take anything for granted and that we had to fight every down."
Friday's game should be, Warren suggested, a slugfest against a Kendrick (6-4) team that features the wishbone offense.
"I haven't seen the wishbone a while, but I cut my coaching teeth on it in south Georgia," Warren said. "They're a good size and athletic, but I like our chances if we keep their athleticism in check. I know we'll play hard, and with this being only the second home playoff game every here, the atmosphere should be kind of crazy."
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or at 423-757-6296.