Playoff time sometimes means that football teams have to prepare for unfamiliar teams on short notice.

Not Valdosta and Lowndes.

The Wildcats and Vikings both open the GHSA Class AAAAA football playoffs this Friday against Region 4 teams they defeated in the second round last year. Valdosta High, the No. 2 seed from Region 1, will host Riverdale at 8 p.m. at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium. No. 3 seed Lowndes High travels to Twelve Oaks Stadium in Hampton for a 7:30 p.m. showdown against Lovejoy.

Elsewhere, Cook and Clinch County both made the playoffs, while Madison County (Fla.) won its Class 2A postseason opener Friday.

Valdosta (7-2-1) reached the quarterfinals last year thanks to a 17-6 win over Riverdale. The Raiders were then a No. 4 seed coming off an upset of Camden County. In 2002, Riverdale is 8-2 and a No. 3 seed. The Raiders lost 27-26 to Region 4 champion Starr's Mill-Fayetteville and 28-6 to runner-up Lovejoy.

The Wildcats will be favored against Riverdale, especially after holding the Raiders to just six points a year ago with most of the same players on defense. Valdosta is familiar with Riverdale's standard Wing-T offense and its defensive schemes.

Riverdale will be no easy victory, though. The Raiders defense has three shutouts this season, and the offense has scored 20 or more points in eight of their 10 games.

The bad news for Valdosta is that it has moved into perhaps the most difficult quarter of the state playoff bracket, which also includes No. 2 Stephenson, No. 5 Camden County and No. 9 South Gwinnett. Whoever reaches the Georgia Dome from those teams will be the best-tested, and maybe the most tired, team.

Lowndes (8-2) and Lovejoy are meeting in the postseason for the third time in four years. The Vikings pulled away late for a 35-21 victory last year at Martin Stadium and posted a 24-0 road victory during 1999's state championship run.

The Wildcats are 8-2 with a senior-laden team that returned largely intact from last year's 10-2 finish.

"Lovejoy's always a good team," said Lowndes senior quarterback Brandon Ponder. "You can't take anything from them. It's always a fight when we play them."

The Vikings' improved offense will be put to the test Friday. Lovejoy held opponents to 13 points or less in seven of their eight wins this season. On the other side of the ball, the Wildcats have scored 28 or more points in their last four games, all wins.

Friday's winner takes on the winner of Westside-Macon/Wayne County.

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After back-to-back trips to the Class AA semifinals in the Georgia Dome, Cook High (6-4) needed a 48-20 victory over Bacon County Friday just to salvage a postseason berth. The Hornets, ranked second in the state in the preseason, travel to Region 3 champion Vidalia this Friday. The Indians (10-0), ranked third in the state, are coming off a 60-6 blowout of Bleckley County.

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Clinch County (10-0) was off Friday after winning the Region 1-A championship. The Panthers will host Montgomery County (3-7), which defeated Wheeler County 30-26 to claim the No. 4 seed from Region 4.

The Panthers will have home-field advantage through the first three rounds. Clinch County would play on the road in the Class A championship game if it met another No. 1 seed, either Metter, Miller County, Trion or Twiggs County.

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After winning a court injunction allowing it to host playoff games, Madison County began defense of its state championship with a 48-0 whitewash of Callahan-West Nassau. Brian Barfield threw for 191 yards and two touchdowns, including a 65-yard score to Germany Bruton on the opening play of the game.

Baring a legal reversal, the Cowboys (9-0) will host Pensacola Catholic this Friday in a Class 2A-Region 1 semifinal. The Crusaders (9-1) pounded Fort White 35-0 in the opening round.

Madison County was originally prohibited from hosting playoff games this year by the FHSAA, after an incident in last year's state semifinals against South Sumter-Bushnell.



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