ROSWELL - Unlike Peachtree Ridge, which is in just its fourth season of varsity football, Roswell has been a regular participant in postseason play for the last 15 years.
The Hornets are a playoff team for the 11th time in the last 16 seasons, all in the state's highest classification, but this is the first time they have made it past their second postseason game during that span.
In recent years, the Hornets have reached a dead end once they ventured into Gwinnett County, losing to Brookwood in 1998 and to Parkview four times between 2000 and '05.
But thanks to a pair of early escapes against Gwinnett opponents Collins Hill and Brookwood, followed by two dominant victories over
1-AAAAA opponents Houston County and Tift County, the Hornets find themselves in Saturday night's championship game against the Lions.
The Peachtree Ridge-Roswell match-up could have occurred in the first round, but the coaches of Region 6-AAAAA made a decision regarding playoff seeding that completely altered the AAAAA bracket.
Even though Roswell had a better sub-region record than Wheeler (5-0 to 4-1) - which won 6-AAAAA's Cobb sub-region - a better record against region opponents (8-1 to 6-2) and a better overall record (9-1 to 7-3), Wheeler was awarded the No. 1 seed in the playoffs thanks to a 14-3 victory over the Hornets during the regular season.
Peachtree Ridge defeated Wheeler 17-3 in the first round while the Hornets held off Collins Hill 31-28, starting the two teams' unexpected playoff runs.
The Hornets almost let a 31-7 third quarter lead slip away against the Eagles, and survived 10-9 against Brookwood, which missed three field goals and what would have been a game-tying extra point with 1:15 to play.
The last two weeks, however, the Hornets have won decisively. They shredded Houston County 42-21 in the quarterfinals and thoroughly outplayed Tift in a 24-10 semifinal win at the Georgia Dome, outgaining the Blue Devils 387 yards to 115.
The Hornets feature a balanced offense and an undersized but scrappy defense that has led the team to a 13-1 mark. Junior quarterback Dustin Taliaferro has passed for 1,950 yards and 16 touchdowns, matching his regular season total with eight playoff scoring passes.
The Hornets have a deep group of receivers who have a knack for getting open and catching Taliaferro's pinpoint passes. Will Naclerio has caught a touchdown pass in all four playoff games after going the entire regular season without a TD reception, but is one of just four or five interchangeable, sure-handed wide outs.
Junior tailback Alex Daniel, who did not play against Brookwood because of an injury, has rushed for 1,640 yards and 16 TDs, including 432 yards and five scores in three playoff games. Daniel has broken a number of long runs behind a line completely rebuilt from last season with only two senior starters.
Defensively, the Hornets have no obvious standouts, but have quality athletes on the line, at linebacker and in the secondary.
End Justin Byrd, one of the team's nine senior starters, keys the Hornets' pass rush, and active linebacker Obelle Okakpu makes tackles from sideline-to-sideline.
Three teams have rushed for more than 250 yards against the Hornets, who allow 135 per game, limiting Tift to 18 yards last week.
Excluding a nine-minute stretch in the second half against Collins Hill, the Roswell secondary has been extremely stingy.
Other than the Eagles, no team has thrown a touchdown pass against the Hornets since the third game of the regular season, with Roswell intercepting 21 passes, six in the playoffs. Junior cornerback Dominique Wheeler shut down Georgia recruit Israel Troupe last week and keys the Hornets' pass defense.
Jim Broadway, whose father is a Roswell assistant coach and former Georgia punter, capably handles the Hornets' kicking duties.
Tim McFarlin is in his 10th season as Roswell's head coach (26th overall) and the Hornets are 79-34 under him with seven playoff trips.
Four Roswell coaches have more than 30 years at the school, including longtime former head coach Ray Manus, but two new coordinators (Gary Varner and former Cincinnati Bengals player Leo Barker) have made immediate impacts.
Like Peachtree Ridge, this will be Roswell's second playoff game at McEachern, with the Hornets winning their quarterfinal game against Houston County there.