The last time the LaFayette Ramblers made an appearance in the GHSA football playoffs, the following were notable events that same year:
— Bill Clinton became president.
— Aerosmith, Garth Brooks, Nirvana and Snoop Doggy Dogg (obviously with a snazzier name now) were killing the music scene.
— The World Wide Web was "born."
— Microsoft released Windows 3.1.
— The Southeast was buried in a blizzard.
You guessed it: 1993 was a good season for coach Rayvan Teague's program as the Ramblers made their third playoff appearance in a four-year stretch. Since then? Well, LaFayette fashioned just two winning seasons as part of what was Georgia's longest-running playoff drought.
That skid ended last week when the Ramblers finished a 4-5 regular season with a shootout loss at North Murray but earned the No. 4 playoff seed out of tough Region 6-AAA. The feeling within the program, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, was almost more relief than jubilation. To put it plainly, LaFayette players — most notably the 13 seniors — had grown weary of talking about the streak of seasons without a playoff game.
"Yeah, we had gotten tired of it," senior running back Jamario Clements said. "Since last Friday, it's been crazy. We've been through a lot of guys who didn't think in their heads they could get here. That's not pointing anyone out, it's just fact.
"We knew when we became seniors we had the chance to get in, and now we've done it."
The architect of the playoff team is third-year coach Paul Ellis, who did not hide the fact before the season began he expected to be playing this postseason. Having not been around during the dry spell (he coached several region champions at Fyffe High School in Alabama), Ellis looks at it as a springboard more than an achievement.
"I feel it's an important step for our program," he said. "You have to get there, and maybe more than once, to know how to get through it. This week we have to learn how to handle it, like traveling a longer distance than we're used to and not trying to do things we can't on the field."
LaFayette is one of eight area teams playing this weekend as the GHSA playoffs begin — three games were moved to Saturday to accommodate a lack of game officials. The Ramblers take on Region 7-AAA champion Cherokee Bluff (9-1), a third-year program in Flowery Branch.
In a bid to pull off the upset in a game set for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff Friday, Ellis will again rely on the team's terrific one-two punch in the backfield. Quarterback Jaylon Ramsey has put up 1,128 yards rushing and 788 passing and accounted for 23 touchdowns, while Clements has added 886 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Calhoun (7-3) at Lithia Springs (4-6); 7:30 p.m. Friday: It's been nearly 20 years since the Yellow Jackets have started the playoffs on the road. The offense is elite with Christian Lewis close to 1,900 passing yards, running back Jerrian Hames almost at 1,200 yards and receiver Cole Speer at nearly 1,000 yards. Lithia Springs, which lost its first four games, is led by quarterback Jai'que Hart, who has passed for 1,335 yards, and running back Lydell Daniel, who has 515 yards and is also a dangerous kick returner.
Stephenson (4-2) at Northwest Whitfield (7-2); 3:30 p.m. Saturday: Stone Mountain's Stephenson, despite playing just six games, remains ranked inside the top 10 in the state in the classification. The Jaguars, led by two-way starting linemen George Jackson (6-foot-4, 350 pounds) and Hassan Brown (6-2, 330) and powered by a physical defense, have allowed fewer than 10 points per game. Northwest has the area's top passer in Owen Brooker, who has 2,107 yards and 18 touchdowns, and elite receivers Ray Morrison and Matt Redmond, who have combined for 16 touchdowns and more than 1,500 yards.
Heritage (5-4) at Hapeville Charter (5-3); 6 p.m. Saturday: The Generals, who had to forfeit their regular-season finale due to COVID-19 quarantining, will be nearly at full strength as they hit the road for the playoffs. That means a pass-happy offense led by senior quarterback Nick Hanson and a deep group of receivers led by Ryan Heet and Logan Lowe will be in effect. The game, which will be played at Atlanta's Banneker High School, will feature two of the state's most productive prep linebackers. Heritage senior Zach Brown has 90 tackles (12 for loss), while Hapeville's Zavier Carter is one of Georgia's top 25 senior recruits, according to Rivals.com, and is committed to LSU.
North Murray (6-3) at North Hall (6-4), 7:30 p.m. Friday: There will be a contrast of offensive styles on display in Gainesville. The visiting Mountaineers feature a fast-paced attack headed by sophomore quarterback Seth Griffin, who has passed for 1,713 yards and 17 touchdowns while adding 375 yards and 11 scores on the ground. Senior Dante Tidwell has more than 1,200 total yards, joining Noah Lunsford, Michael McDade and Cade Petty to form a potent receiving corps. The Titans do all their damage on the ground — they have only 322 passing yards this year — behind running back Clark Howell, who has 1,483 yards and 21 touchdowns, and Kevin Rochester, who has 761 yards and nine scores.
Chattooga (3-7) at South Atlanta (7-3), 5:30 p.m Saturday: The traveling Indians are battle tested after surviving a tough Region 7 to make the playoffs, and they will ride a balanced offense while trying to win a likely shootout. Quarterback Cash Allen has passed for 1,400 yards, while running back Lashaun Lester is right at 1,000 yards and freshman receiver Nic Hester has 572 yards and five touchdown catches. The Jaguars, who have been outscored 184-171 this year, are led by running back Keyjuan Brown, who has more than 1,300 yards.
Class A public
Georgia Military College Prep (6-4) at Gordon Lee (9-1), 7 p.m. Friday: The host Trojans plan to unleash their lethal ground game, led by senior Cade Peterson (1,596 yards, 23 touchdowns), Bo Rhudy (794 yards, nine touchdowns) and Brody Cobb (439 yards, five touchdowns). Gordon Lee has rushed for 3,523 yards this season, averaging 8.4 per carry. GMC Prep is led by running back Yasir Saleem (1,000 yards) and quarterback Tyler Saunders.
Class A private
King's Ridge (2-4) at Christian Heritage (9-1), 7:30 p.m. Friday: After earning the Dalton program's first region title since joining the GHSA eight years ago, the host Lions hope to feast on an opponent that is in the playoffs for the first time. In just eight on-field games (two wins were forfeits) this year, Christian Heritage quarterback Christian Thomas has 1,533 passing yards and 16 touchdowns to lead an attack that also features Gage Leonard and Evan Lester, each with 990 total yards, and Solomon Locke (960 yards).