Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Norcross defensive coordinator Pat Standard gives the Blue Devils a pep talk in the weight room prior to the first round of Class AAAAAA high school football playoffs against Chattahoochee last year.
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SNELLVILLE -- As Rudy Sullivan sat in the parking lot outside of Richard Snell Memorial Stadium on Friday night, he noticed a different atmosphere as cars full of fans rolled in for the Milton-South Gwinnett playoff game.
"You can tell the glow on their face, the bounce in their step," Sullivan, a South Gwinnett volunteer, said. "It's like it's Christmas Eve, not just another regular game."
For some around Gwinnett, buoyed by the county's playoff and state championship success, the playoffs are the start of the meaningful season. To win a state championship, most teams would have to beat a Gwinnett team or one from south Georgia, like Camden or Lowndes.
"It's good for the school," said Don Beck, who cuts the grass on the football field at South. "Not many people can say you were in the playoffs."
This year, many fans, regardless of school allegiance, are wondering if Grayson can defend its state championship, if Norcross can continue its unbeaten season, or if an underdog can pull a road upset.
Wins like last week's last-second field goal by Roberto Lindsay to beat Parkview help the excitement build at South for the playoffs. Wins like that have a carryover effect and turn fans and players into believers, Sullivan said.
"When South realized they could compete with the Brookwoods and the Parkviews," Sullivan said. "They expect to make the playoffs."
That win also changed some travel plans of at least two alumni that Sullivan knew. Instead of coming back to town in a few days for Thanksgiving, Sullivan said in one case a college student looked for ways to find gas money to drive back from Mars Hill College.
For some like Beck, who watched the pregame festivities from the end zone at South alongside Larry Woelfl, the playoffs are a time to rekindle memorable games from years ago. Woelfl remembered the 1993 South season, which featured postseason wins over Cedar Shoals and Warner Robins, and a state championship loss to Dunwoody.
Sullivan, Beck and Woelfl all said they cheer for Gwinnett teams later in the playoffs if the Comets don't make it all the way.
"I do, but a lot of other people don't," Sullivan said. "I'm like that in all sports."