Fox Creek entered the season with a team goal to make the playoffs for the first time in school history. Blackville-Hilda has made a postseason appearance every year since 1990 and hopes to keep the streak alive. With just a month left in their regular season schedules, Fox Creek, Blackville-Hilda and every other Region 4-A team are still left wondering exactly where they stand in the playoff picture.
"It's hard to say right now," Fighting Hawks coach David Berry said. "After this week you hope to get a better idea."
Blackville-Hilda's postseason status seems strong. The team will enter Friday's game against winless North with a 4-2 record and in the top half of the nine-team region.
Fox Creek's future appears even more promising. The Predators are off to their best start in school history at 6-1 and will bring a four-game winning streak into its home contest against Calhoun County this week.
Both teams are behind Williston-Elko and Calhoun County in the region, but their position in the standings and overall record won't be the only factor in securing a playoff bid. Unlike most other classifications in Georgia and South Carolina, the state playoffs in Class A football follow an untraditional points system in deciding which teams make the postseason and which teams are left out.
"It's bittersweet," Fox Creek coach Russ Schneider said. "I used to hate it, but now that we're winning it's nice to see the points start to add up."
Instead of judging success solely on wins and losses, the South Carolina High School League splits Class A teams into two divisions based on enrollment, then splits them again into upper and lower state groups based on geographic regions.
The league then awards points to teams based on wins and losses and their opponents' classification and overall record. Bonus points are handed out at the end of the season based on final region standings.
The eight region champions each get an automatic bid to the playoffs and are guaranteed at least a No. 4 seed. With the region champions in place, the remaining spots are filled in by teams based on their division, upper or lower state status and ranking in the points system.
After all the numbers are crunched, eight Class A Division I upper state teams and eight Class A Division I lower state teams play a state tournament to determine a state champion. Eight Class A Division II upper state teams and eight Class A Division II lower state teams form their own bracket for a separate postseason.
A team can earn as few as 1 point for a win against a Class A team with a losing record and up to 4.5 points for a win against a Class AAAA team with a winning record.
A team can also pick up points even with a loss but only against an opponent in Class AA or higher.
The point structure means Williston-Elko, which lost to Strom Thurmond in the season opener, will still receive one point for the loss, provided the Rebels finish the season with a winning record.
Points are also adjusted because regions in Class A vary in size. Each team is only allowed to count two non-Class A opponents and only one opponent per class.
The complex rules typically require a patient coach with a web browser and a calculator. Complete ignorance can become a more attractive option.
"I don't know," Berry said. "We can't worry about anybody else. We just take a wait-and-see approach. There's still a little ways to go, and it changes every week."
A similar points system, though slightly more complicated, is used in South Carolina's Class AAAA state playoff format. Both address the growing concern of strength of schedule and reward teams for playing bigger and better opponents.