In just their fourth year as a program, the Knights won their half of Region 7AAAA and are the higher seed in Friday’s matchup.
But, just like they have been for much of the season, they are squarely in the underdog role.
“We’ve been the underdog all season, but that is what happens when you are the new kids on the block,” River Ridge coach Robert Braucht said. “But that’s just the way it is in the game of football.
“In football, just like in real life, you aren’t going to get that respect until you have proven yourself time and time again. We know we aren’t going to get that respect yet and the kids understand that we have to work our butts off to earn it Friday.”
River Ridge (5-5), the No. 2 seed from 7AAAA, will fight for that respect against Grady (8-2), the No. 3 seed from 6AAAA.
The Grey Knights of Grady narrowly missed their own shot at a subregion championship after a Nov. 2 loss to then-undefeated Carver-Atlanta. A week ago, Grady beat Columbia in a region play-in game to sew up its state playoff spot.
Coached by Ronnie Millen, the Grey Knights were described by Braucht as a model of consistency over the last decade, and a program that his Knights hope to be like in the future.
Grady has posted 11 straight winning seasons under Millen, making the state playoffs in eight of those years and qualifying for the state semifinals in 2005.
Grady also has a far deeper history in football than River Ridge has. The Grey Knights have been playing football on their midtown-Atlanta campus since just after World War II, winning their lone state championship in 1953 under Erk Russell, the future college football fixture at Georgia and Georgia Southern.
“(Grady is) big, fast, physical and well-coached — that much shows up on film,” Braucht said. “It will be a huge challenge to play such a seasoned program, so it is imperative that we come out with the right mentality.”
Braucht described that mentality as understanding the importance of every rep in practice during the week and the importance of every snap in the state playoffs. He also said that we was stressing to his team to realize where it stood as a state playoff team.
“Nobody makes it to this point by chance,” Braucht said. “We’re in this spot because we dedicated ourselves during the season, played the right way and did what it took to get here. We tried to convey to the kids this week that, ‘You’re one of the 32 best teams in the state in your classification, and you need to play like it.’”