File Photo Norcross quarterback Scotty Hosch throws during the Bulldogs' game against Norcross earlier this season.
November means a lot of different things in different levels of football.
On the high school level, it means the beginning of the postseason run -- something players, coaches and fans around Gwinnett County have come to know quite well.
While that is the case again this year, with nine different county teams opening play in the 2011 state playoffs Friday night, there are some key differences this time around.
The main difference has to do with how many teams will be making deep postseason runs this year, part of which has to do with the luck of the brackets drawn up by the Georgia High School Association.
With four-time defending Class AA state champion Buford as the county's lone representative in the lower classifications and eight teams making up four All-Gwinnett matchups in the Class AAAAA first round, fewer teams figure to be around as the postseasons progresses toward Thanksgiving and beyond.
"It's tough when (the bracket) rolls that way," said Brookwood coach Mark Crews, whose Broncos (7-3) open defense of last year's state title by traveling to Peachtree Ridge for a first-round matchup Friday night. "I hate it because last year, we had three county teams in the (Class AAAAA) semifinals. It's going to be tough to match that with Regions 7 and 8 beating up on each other (in the first round)."
The current bracket matching Gwinnett's two regions in the first round does match teams that have at least a general familiarity with each other, some of which have played other area playoff-caliber teams in the regular season -- including Norcross and Dacula, which played each other in the opening week of this season.
And as successful as county teams have been over the past decade, it also means the survivors should be well prepared for later rounds.
"When we played Grayson (in Region 8-AAAAA play) last year, and obviously they're one of the best teams in the state, the score was 3-0 with less than three minutes to play ... before we got the interception and ended up winning 10-0," Crews recalled. "This year, it was 7-7 with less than a minute to play before they won (14-7). So, you sort of learn from games like that. (Grayson) wound up making it to the semifinals (after the game with Brookwood) last year. We beat Collins Hill in overtime in the first week (of last year's regular season), and they wound up making it to the semifinals.
"So, when you're competing at that level against teams that good, even if you don't win those (initial) games, you've got a good enough team to compete at that level. You can't help but learn when you're playing the best teams in the state."
While most of Gwinnett's other postseason teams -- including Buford in AA, plus Grayson, North Gwinnett, Peachtree Ridge, Dacula, Norcross and Collins Hill in AAAAA -- also have past playoff experience, one team that has a lot to learn about postseason football is Archer.
In just its third varsity season, the Tigers (5-5) will be making their first playoff appearance when they travel to Tom Robinson Memorial Stadium to take on Region 7-AAAAA champion North Gwinnett on Friday.
And head coach Andy Dyer admits there is only so much he and his staff can do to prepare his young team for the differences between a regular-season game and the postseason.
"We've never been in the state playoffs, so we're excited about everything that goes with it," said Dyer who played the playoffs all four seasons of his playing career at Brookwood during the late 1980s, including the 1988 Class AAAA state title game. "But until they experience it, it's hard to explain it to them in words."
Those teams that survive this first week of games Friday will also notice another difference in the playoff bracket this year.
In the past, the crossover of teams from regions in North Georgia to South Georgia has occurred during the state quarterfinals.
This year, that crossover occurs a round earlier, which could make the road extremely tough for some teams.
For example, it is conceivable No. 2 state-ranked Grayson would have to go through other state-ranked teams like Stephenson and Hillgrove in order to reach the semifinals if the Rams get past Collins Hill in the first round, while seventh-ranked North could face a similar gauntlet that could include defending state runner-up Colquitt County and South Georgia power Camden County if the Bulldogs beat Archer on Friday.
But as Crews points out, the possibility of forging a new path to the state finals at the Georgia Dome only adds to the intrigue and sense of accomplishment of playoff football.
"I've always felt, ... 'Why not?'" Crews said of the earlier crossover. "(Teams) have to travel anyway. It's a little (more fair) rotation."