After breaking ground by being the first of its kind a year ago, the Gwinnett County Public Schools Girls Flag Football League’s championship playoffs has evolved somewhat in its second season.
So there will be some significant differences from a year ago when this year’s playoffs concluded with the semifinals, third-place game and championship game Wednesday at South Gwinnett High School.
The most notable change is that unlike last year, the finals will not mark the end of the season for the county champion, and perhaps more, of the teams involved.
Since Gwinnett County was the only school system playing girls flag football last year, the county title was the ultimate goal.
This year, it appears an eight-team tournament that will feature champions from Gwinnett, Henry, Forsyth, Cherokee, Rockdale and Muscogee counties, plus two other at-large teams, is shaping up to be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Dec. 18, though the specific details are still being worked out.
Aside from the higher stakes, the other most notable difference in the sport in Gwinnett County this season seems to be how more organized and sophisticated in the game teams seem to have become in Year 2.
“It’s so cool to see in the second year the level of excitement,” said Collins Hill athletics director Scarlett Straughan, one of the league’s co-coordinators. “And it’s not just with the players. The coaches are more excited and into it this year, and it’s great that they take it that seriously.”
As the players and coaches have become more in tune with the nuances of flag football, it has forced every team to become more strategic in their game planning than they were a year ago.
And those adjustments have evolved over the course of the season, particularly for relatively new coaches like North Gwinnett co-head coach Sarah Stanic.
“Last year, everything was new,” said Stanic, who shares coaching duties with Heather Stanfield. “The sport has definitely evolved. We’ve definitely had to tweak our plays and strategies a bit to keep up. This year, teams are running new plays we’ve never seen before and pulling off trick plays.
“I’ve coached tennis before, but I hadn’t coached flag football before. I knew almost nothing about flag football (before this year). I knew (contact) football. My younger brother played at Mississippi State, so I’ve seen a lot of football. But (flag football) has a lot of nuances, and that’s probably been the biggest learning curve.”
The adjustments may be one reason that two new teams — Archer and Mountain View — have joined holdovers in last year’s county runner-up North Gwinnett and semifinalist Collins Hill in this year’s county Final Four.
The semifinals get underway Wednesday at 5 p.m. with the Tigers and Bears taking on each other, and the Bulldogs and Eagles playing to determine the two teams in the finals.
The two semifinal losers will play for third place beginning at approximately 6 p.m., while the winners will square off for the title at 7 p.m.