But under the direction of first-year coach Lee Shaw, fourth-seeded Rabun County (6-4) is back in the playoffs for the first time since 1998 and enjoying its first winning campaign since 2000.
"I'm sure they're going to be on an emotional high. The community's excited, the kids are excited — and they deserve to be," Heard County coach Tim Barron said of the Wildcats. "They've had a heck of a year and they're doing a lot of good things. When a team comes in like that, you can't focus on what they're doing, you've got to focus on yourself. You've got to weather the storm of emotions, and that's one thing we've got to work on."
Shaw, who is the father of University of South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw, is not new to program-building after spending 10 years at Flowery Branch and starting the Falcons program in 2002. Flowery Branch went a combined 6-24 in his first three years in charge before really turning the corner in 2005, going 11-2 that season and eventually reaching the AAA state championship in 2008, falling to Cairo in the Georgia Dome in a 28-14 contest.
During Shaw's run at Flowery Branch, the Falcons went 79-41 before he took his winning ways to Tiger, Ga., this past season.
Shaw, who also spent five years (1995-99) as the head man at White County, has revived a Wildcat program that had a combined seven wins during the previous five seasons.
"Looking at Rabun on film, you can tell that they're doing a great job execution-wise. You know, that says a lot about Lee Shaw and what his staff is doing. He had all that success at Flowery Branch, and I'm sure they're running the same stuff they did at Flowery Branch," Barron said.
"You can tell that the kids are excited. They play hard, they execute extremely well. It's like a program that's doing everything right. To me, it's a Bremen-type team in a spread offense."
All four of the Wildcats' losses this season came against playoff teams, including the other three Region 8-AA postseason squads — Jefferson, Washington-Wilkes and Greene County — along with Commerce in Class A.
The top-seeded Braves (10-0) will have to focus on stopping a trio of Rabun County play-makers, including a freshman receiver that Barron said is going to be special.
Charlie Woerner, standing 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, is the nephew of former University of Georgia standout Scott Woerner, who was part of the Bulldogs' 1980 national championship team.
"He's already good right now, but playing at the level he's playing right now as a freshman, it's just amazing at what he can be three or four years down the road," Barron said.
But with the opportunity to snap a streak of five consecutive first-round exits in the postseason, Barron and the Braves are focused on bringing their 'A' game and moving into the second round Friday night.
"We just hope that we play our best every opportunity we get from here on out," Barron said.