Aside from a hiccup two years ago, the Red Devils (8-2) had been a permanent fixture in the Class A state playoffs since coach Dwight Hochstetler took over the program in 1988. Now, with reclassification, Bowdon is getting its first taste of Class AA postseason, as it travels to second-seeded and eighth-ranked Washington-Wilkes on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.
"We've always had a rich tradition of going to the playoffs here. In my 25 years here, we've made the playoffs every year but once. I think they expected to go to the playoffs. I can't say enough about how well they played this year, how they developed. I think they did a good job improving each game and that was our goal to improve each game and peak at the right time. I think they did that," Hochstetler said.
Lining up against the Red Devils is a resurgent Washington-Wilkes team, which is having its best year since a 10-win campaign and second-round playoff appearance in 2006. The Tigers (9-1) have been to the playoffs each year since, but haven't made it past the first round since that year.
Bowdon was able to pick up a first-round victory last year — as the No. 3 seed on the road — before falling to the eventual state champion, Savannah Christian, in the second round.
"Really, it's nothing different than what we witnessed last year. On the road for the first round. Nothing really to be scared of, again. We really should be a No. 1 seed. We just got beat and got into the wrong position. It's going to be a battle, but I think we can pull through," senior linebacker Logan Freeman said.
Not involved in last year's postseason was starting quarterback Marcus Thurman. Playing as a wide receiver/defensive back as a sophomore, Thurman missed the end of the regular season and the playoffs with a kidney injury and is ready to get in the postseason mix this time around.
"This is something new to me because I didn't get to play last year at playoff time. We'll be ready and we'll come together as a team and come out with a victory," Thurman said. "We're young and we're still learning, but we're progressing a lot. We have a good, experienced line from last year. We'll be ready."
With a younger team this season, there has been an emphasis on the senior leadership, as well as the experience on both lines of scrimmage.
"We developed a lot of depth in our backfield. I think we're about two-deep back there now. I'm glad we had a lot of depth at our offensive line, because that really came into play this year. That was a big issue for us. If not for that depth on the offensive line, we might not be in the playoffs. We went through four right guards, and now we have to go through a left guard. It's very fortunate we had that depth," Hochstetler said.
"I think what really helped our seniors is that a lot of them are two, three-year starters and I think that really came into play. If it wasn't for that, we had a few seniors on the offensive and defensive lines, and I think that played a big role. You could see an improvement from this year to last year with our lines of scrimmage."
Coming off a loss to Region 5-AA champions Heard County in the final game of the season, the focus for Bowdon is forgetting that game and getting back to the eight games it won this season.
"As long as we execute and do what we've done for our past eight games that we've won, it ought to play out our way," senior tight end Logan Reeves said. "Being in the playoffs this year after moving up is a real big thing, beating [teams] we haven't played before."
Several of those new teams came from moving up to a higher classification. It's been all football once on the field, but the Bowdon coach knows his team is playing with a slightly smaller deck.
"We're playing football. We know we're going against bigger schools that's got a population of maybe 300 more kids than we have. They have a little bit more to choose from than we do. We missed the Class A cut-off by six students and our enrollment this fall was 40 or 50 less students than last year. We're really playing with true Class A numbers. It's a credit to our young men and the time our coaching staff puts in. Our kids believe in the system, and I think our coaches did a great job of getting them in the right position," Hochstetler said.
For the seniors, they don't want the last time they lace it up to be a first-round playoff exit on Friday.
"To be a senior, it matters about 100 times more than any other game because you know if you lose this one, there's no more guaranteed games. You've got to play every play until the last whistle to win. If you don't win, you're done. There's nothing else for you to do," Freeman said.
It will be the third time the two teams have met overall, with all of them coming in the postseason. Washington-Wilkes won a semifinal game in 2005, while Bowdon took a first-round victory in 2009.
And even though fields aren't at their greenest at the end of the season, that doesn't make them any less desirable in Hochstetler's eyes.
"There's nothing prettier than a field in November. Brown with white trim — can't beat that," Hochstetler said.