By Anthony Rhoads
Will the third time by the charm for the Riverdale Raiders?
They'll found out this Friday when they travel to south Georgia to take on the Valdosta Wildcats in the first round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs.
In the past two seasons, the Raiders have qualified for the state tournament but Valdosta has knocked them out both years, including last year's 7-0 loss.
Riverdale head coach Rodney Hackney knows his squad has a tough task ahead as they will have to not only worry about what's happening on the field but Valdosta's ?12th man', the Wildcat fans who will be out in full force to support their team.
"We've got to take the crowd out of it," Hackney said.
He said some keys will be to play tough defense, stop Valdosta's running game and force them into passing situations. On offense, the main key for Riverdale will taking advantage of scoring opportunities.
"They're a pretty good football team," Hackney said. "It's the same old Valdosta. But I wasn't really that impressed because of their region. I think our region has prepared us to play with them. We've played some tough competition."
Three years, three trips to state: Hackney has guided the Raiders to the playoffs in each of the three years he has been head coach at Riverdale.
"It's a good accomplishment for the coaching staff and the players," Hackney said. "It's not all me; it's the coaching staff and the players. One of the things we've tried to do here is instill discipline and that's been a key. We want the students to play with discipline and pride and we've done that all year. Except for the East Coweta game, we've played everybody tough."
From 1995-98, Riverdale went to the playoffs for four consecutive years. In 1998, the Raiders advanced to the Class AAA semifinals and finished with a 13-1 record.
Another good year for Clayton County: This season Clayton County has solid representation with Riverdale, Mt. Zion and Lovejoy qualifying for postseason play.
"It's a good accomplishment for Clayton County. I know Al Hughes and I coached at Mt. Zion with Jackie Green and they both do a great job," Hackney said. "I think the level of football is improving and I think we'll eventually be sending four or five teams to the playoffs."