If there are two primary keys that Calhoun head coach Hal Lamb consistently stresses to his team each week at practice to ensure victory on the following Friday, it would be to play its signature brand of physical football and come out on top of the turnover battle.
In the first round of the Class AAA state playoffs, the Yellow Jackets (11-0) soundly and proficiently accomplished both in a 55-17 landslide victory over the Fannin County Rebels on Friday night at the Reeve.
Although the Calhoun offense was as high-flying and lethal as ever in this one, it was the disruptive and downright dominant performance from the defense that placed the offensive unit in stellar positions to succeed. The Jackets set the tone and constantly flipped the field, recording five first half turnovers.
“We had a bunch of short fields due to our defense, and I think that was the biggest factor for us tonight,” Lamb said. “We took them out of the game early with those turnovers. Like I always tell the team, turnovers equal short fields, and short fields equal touchdowns. So I was proud of our defensive performance tonight.”
On the opening drive, the Rebels (4-7) botched a snap, which was swiftly pounced on by linebacker Carson Griffin on Fannin County’s side of the field. After a series of quick strikes by Gavin Gray to receivers Payton Morrow, Brannon Spector and Grant Gilmer, Zack Fuller cashed in with a four-yard score to put the Jackets on the board.
Logan Parker was next in line to notch a turnover, picking off Fannin County quarterback Luke Holloway for the first of a pair of interceptions by No. 9. This time it was Morrow that capitalized on the offensive end, taking a cleverly-designed end-around carry 17 yards into the endzone.
After yet another three-and-out for the Rebels, Fuller created even more distance on the scoreboard with a six-yard scoring plunge.
Linebacker Davis Allen was the next defender to get in on the action, intercepting Holloway and returning it 40 yards untouched for seven more. Parker then widened the gap on the ensuing offensive drive for the Jackets, snagging a bubble screen pass from Gray and sprinting to the house to give his team full control of the contest before intercepting Holloway once again to close out the first period.
On the opening play of the second quarter, Fuller flashed his agility, knifing through the defense in a matter of seconds for an impressive 62-yard rushing touchdown. Resting in the second half due to the score, Fuller accumulated 86 rushing yards and a hat trick of scores on just five carries.
“Zack (Fuller) is Zack, and he is an extremely talented football player that will do whatever you ask him to do,” Lamb said. “Logan (Parker) contributes on both sides of the ball as a tremendous defensive back and receiver, and he played very well tonight, so I was pleased with the way both of those guys played tonight.”
Logging its initial first down in the middle of the second quarter, there wasn’t much working the favor of the Rebels offense until right before the half when it showed signs of life with a 19-yard field goal assisted by numerous personal foul penalties by the Jackets and an onside kick recovery.
However, Calhoun was there to answer right back when Jonkell Tolbert tacked on another interception and the Jackets put together an by-the-books two-minute drill complete with a 21-yard touchdown pass from Gray to Luke Moseley. In the first half, Gray eclipsed 150 passing yards.
The score prompted a running clock for the entirety of the second half and provided the opportunity for Calhoun’s underclassmen to get some playoff experience, with the highlight being a 59-yard touchdown dash by sophomore Jerrian Hames.
The Rebels did add on 10 more points, with backup quarterback Tyler Norton slinging a 39-yard touchdown to Cohutta Hyde and running back Treylyn Owensby muscling in a one-yard rushing score, but the game had long been decided by that point.
“I was really happy with our overall effort tonight,” Lamb said. “I thought we came out focused on both sides of the ball and got the job done. Turnovers are a huge deal in the playoffs, and we made the most of them tonight.”
The Jackets now advance to round two of the Class AAA playoffs, with a matchup against the Lovett Lions next Friday at home now lined up.