They're here, arriving in a blink of an eye for some teams, and finally showing up after a long season of waiting for others -- the playoffs have landed.
They begin Friday night full of hope and promise and the guarantee of a new season.
"Everybody's 0-0 now,'' said Monroe coach Charles Truitt, whose team went 5-5 in the regular season, but starts fresh Friday in Milledgeville against Baldwin in the first round of the Class AAA state football playoffs.
Monroe heads a list of eight Southwest Georgia teams that made it to the GHSA postseason. Defending state champs Deerfield-Windsor and Westwood are back in the GISA state playoffs along with Terrell Academy, which won the state title two years ago.
JUST MADE IT: Monroe, Worth County, Calhoun County and Miller County all needed to win on the final day of the season to get invited to the dance, but no one cares today how they got in -- they're in.
Monroe not only had to beat Westover in a do-or-die game, but the Tornadoes ended up in a three-way tie with Crisp County and Worth for the final two spots in the Region 1-AAA race, and it took the fourth tiebreaker to decide that Monroe was the No. 3 seed and Worth was No. 4. Now Monroe faces Baldwin (8-2), which is ranked 10th in the state poll
"Winning that game the way we did will hopefully give us momentum going into the playoffs,'' said Truitt, whose team beat Westover, 27-10, to survive. "We feel like we played a real good Westover team (just to get in the playoffs), and that should help.''
The Tornadoes also have some momentum from QB Charles Stafford, who threw for more than 1,200 yards this season and completed 13-of-19 for 225 yards and two TDs to beat Westover.
Worth had to beat Crisp and had to come back to do it. After trailing, 7-0, the Rams won the game, 28-7, and now hit the road and face perennial power Peach County (9-1), which is ranked No. 7 in the state poll.
"I didn't care if we were the third or fourth seed as long as we got in, because when we're running the football we can play with anybody,'' Worth coach Scotty Ward said.
The Rams can run. Ellis Anderson is their bread-and-butter back, and QB Savon Farley is one of the most dangerous running quarterbacks in this part of the state.
It was no surprise to see Miller County beat Stewart County easily, 46-22, to reach the playoffs, where the Pirates are accustomed to landing. But Miller has to go on the road to face Charlton County (9-1), which is ranked No. 6 in the state.
Calhoun County, which was coming off back-to-back losses, surprised some people in Region 1-A when the Cougars knocked Pelham out of the playoffs and earned the No. 4 seed with a 46-20 win. Their reward? They hit the road to face unbeaten Wilcox (10-0), which is the No. 3 ranked team in the state.
"We knew if we won we could get in the playoffs, and we never talked about not winning,'' said Calhoun County coach John Williams of the win against Pelham. "We just talked about giving it all we had.''
And now there's Wilcox.
"They're good. We can't make a mistake,'' Williams said. "We have to be able to adjust to (their tall receivers). They throw the ball all over the place and they've got a 6-5 receiver who is real good, and 6-4 and 6-2 receivers. Our tallest kid is 6-2.''
LOOK WHO'S HERE: The biggest surprise of the season is arguably in Bainbridge, where the Bearcats overcame a mountain of adversity and not only reached the playoffs but arrived in style with an 8-2 record and a 27-24 overtime win against rival Thomas County Central.
Back in August, no one outside of Bainbridge expected the Bearcats to do much. After all, their starting quarterback and his father, an assistant coach, had left the school after spring practice and coach Ed Pilcher had to regroup his kids.
"Everybody doubted us because we lost our quarterback and some coaches,'' said Quincy Fortson, who stepped in and became the starting QB. "We knew people doubted us, so we just took it and ran with it.
"We've been underdogs all year,'' he added. "I think we will be real hard to beat in the playoffs.''
Bainbridge enters the postseason as a No. 3 seed from Region 1-AAAA and travels to Ware County (8-2), the No. 2 seed from Region 2-AAAA.
BACK FOR MORE: There should be a banner at Mitchell County High that reads, "Anybody but Savannah Christian.''
That's how they feel in Camilla, where Mitchell was the top-seeded team from Region 1-A last year and had to open with state power Savannah Christian, which went on to play for the state title and is currently ranked No. 1 in the state Class A poll.
"I still don't know how that happened last year,'' said Mitchell coach Dondrial Pinkins, whose Eagles are the No. 2 seed this year. They're at home Friday against Clinch County (7-3), the No. 3 seed from Region 2-A.
The Eagles (7-3) have won six of their last seven, losing only to Seminole County, and the offense and QB Tevin Watkins had been soaring until a 7-6 win against a gritty Terrell County team last week.
Americus-Sumter (6-4) could have fallen into the surprise category, because the Panthers, who lost all of their key skilled players and most of their huge linemen from a year ago, came back to finish second in the Region 1-AAA race again. Coach Michael Pollock's team did it by winning one nail-biter after another and winning three key region games against Monroe, Westover and Worth by a total of 15 points. The Panthers are at home against third-seeded Mary Persons (8-2) from Region 2-AAA, in what is expected to be another close game -- just what the Panthers thrive on.
Terrell Academy is back for more, and that's not a surprise for the GISA Class A power. The Eagles are led by Josh Wardrip, who scored four times last week in a 50-24 win against Randolph Southern. They might be just 5-5, but their only loss in the region was to defending state champ and unbeaten Westwood. They play Briarwood (6-4) at home, and will be favored to reach the second round.
IT'S ABOUT TIME: Three teams have waited all year to get to the playoffs, including defending GISA state champs Deerfield and Westwood.
Deerfield's Knights have to open against Mount de Sales in the GISA Class AAA playoffs, the team they beat with a last-second 40-yard field goal in the state semifinals a year ago.
Many felt Mount de Sales (7-3) would be the No. 1 team from the north and a possible state final opponent for DWS, and Friday's game might be the best game in all of GISA.
Mount de Sales, which will be looking for revenge, has had injuries which affected the record, but will be pretty healthy on Friday at DWS, where nothing has changed.
"The expectations are always high,'' said DWS coach Allen Lowe, whose team has played in the state final the last three years. "But it's hard when you go 9-2 and people say you're down. The goal is the same.''
Westwood (10-0) has won 23 games in a row, and the kids talked in August about running the table and going 26-0 with back-to-back GISA Class A state titles. That run can continue Saturday when Westwood plays host to Covenant (6-4), a team that runs a no-huddle offense. That might backfire against Westwood, which averages more than 50 points a game and scores quickly with big plays from QB Mason Worsham and running back J.T. Edore.
The other team that has been watching the clock and anxious for the playoffs to begin is Seminole County, which has won nine in a row, and looks ready to make a strong run in the Class A state playoffs. The Indians feature a talented offense that includes Chris Brown, who has rushed for more than 1,300 yards, fullback Barren Rambo, QB Antwan Buggs and Dee Virgin, who picked off a pass and returned it 100 yards last week. They have been running over everybody they've faced for the past two months.
Seminole, ranked fifth in the state in the coaches poll and eighth in The AP writer's poll, is averaging more than 56 points during its last six games, and finally faces a playoff team Friday at home against Bacon County (7-3).