Football and Thanksgiving.
It's quite a combination. Of course, throw in the turkey, stuffing and pie and now we're really talking.
But for three local communities that love their high school football — and a nice spread of meemaw's belt-busting home cookin' — this week marks an even more joyous occasion.
State quarterfinals, baby.
For the first time in four years and only the second since 2004, the west Georgia area will be represented across the state in the elite eight on Friday evening by three proud programs in Mount Zion, Heard County and Carrollton.
The Eagles (9-2) are making their third elite eight appearance in the past four years and the first under head coach Brad Gordon. Carrollton (10-2), meanwhile, is back where it all ended last year in Game 13 and Heard County (11-1) is making its third quarterfinal appearance in program history. MZ and Heard have never reached the state semifinals.
If all three teams clear elite status, it would mark the first time more than two local programs reached the state semifinals in the same season.
Bowdon and Villa Rica both made it to the final four in 1991, while Central and Villa Rica did so in 1986 en route to their state title runs. In 1971, Bowdon and Carrollton both won state crowns in their respective classifications.
The last local quarterfinal trio was Bowdon, Central and Carrollton in 2013 when the Trojans reached the Georgia Dome as a Class AAAA program. In 2004, it was Carrollton, Bremen and Bowdon landing berths in the elite eight and the Red Devils eventually bowing out in the final four.
Fast-forward to present day and all three teams will be on the road Friday with No. 8 Mount Zion traveling to No. 1 Manchester (11-0) in the Class A Public bracket, while No. 1 Heard County treks to south Georgia for a tussle with No. 1 Thomasville (12-0) in AA and No. 2 Carrollton makes way for No. 1 Warner Robins (12-0) in the AAAAA quarterfinals.
There is a chance, however, for both Carrollton and Heard County to host the semifinal round next week.
First and foremost, they have to take care of business on Friday, but with the universal coin flip by the GHSA on Tuesday landing on heads, the top teams in the bracket will serve as the host squad if they are the same seed.
Heard County will host as long as it wins against the Benedictine/Hapeville Charter victor, while the Trojans, should they win, need No. 2 Jones County to knock off No. 1 Carver, Atlanta.
Mount Zion would either travel to No. 4 Mitchell County or No. 5 Clinch County if it pulls the upset of Manchester, which is coincidentally coached by Evan Hochstetler, a Bowdon High School product and former Red Devil assistant.
As for the journey up to this point, there's just something special about practicing on Thanksgiving week with no school, extra family around and plenty of football chatter for the platter.
"Not only is it awesome to play extra football games and you're trying to win a championship, but they get to spend more time with each other," Carrollton head coach Sean Calhoun said. "The coaching staff gets to spend more time with the players. Me as a head coach, I'm going to cherish these moments. Just us eating together and watching film and just being family. That's something that I don't think gets talked about enough. Just the extra time that we're getting to spend together. Hopefully, memories that will last a lifetime."
What makes it even more memorable for Heard County head coach Tim Barron is not only having his Braves at this stage of the game, but his alma mater and son's squad is in the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
A former University of West Georgia linebacker, Barron is doubling-up on the festivities in Franklin and UWG, where his son, Austin, is a safety for the Wolves. West Georgia plays host to West Florida on Saturday at 1 p.m. for a chance to put itself in the national quarterfinals.
Coach Barron is looking for a pair of victories this week on a personal level, but he also understands the significance of having a strong presence across the state in the high school playoffs.
"It just says a lot about the type of athletes we have in this area," Barron said. "It's not just the schools that are playing. The schools that aren't playing, we get to represent the west Georgia community. Obviously, we take a lot of pride in representing Heard County and Franklin, but it is neat to represent this entire area. To see Mount Zion and Carrollton and us still playing, we'd like to see all three of us make it on to the next round. That's something, I believe, that's never been done."
In his first season as a head coach, Gordon is proud to keep the recent string of success flying high for the Eagles and Friday presents an opportunity to lift the program to even greater heights.
"We're excited to be part of it. When you're practicing this late during Thanksgiving week, you have a chance," Gordon said. "To have three schools from this area that have a chance to do something special this year is big for the community, fans and everybody.
"It's a testament to all of the talent and coaches in this area. Great coaches, great players and great support from the community. Each of these schools have great administrations from the top all the way down to athletics. Any time you've got that much support behind you, you're bound to be successful."
So as local fans loosen their belts a little today and gas up their tanks come Friday for the playoff haul, it is indeed a season to be thankful for this fall.
"This is a good area for football. We're just trying to represent the west Georgia area and this Trojan Nation and Carrollton community the best we can," Calhoun said. "I hope the other two teams win, I hope West Georgia wins, I hope we win and it just keeps going.
"The mood and the climate around town and in the school when you have a good football season, it's great and I hope it continues."