After what proved to be nothing less than a rampant, dominant and nearlyspotless run through Region 6-AAA en route to capturing a state record 18th consecutive region title, its do-or-die time for the Calhoun Yellow Jackets this Friday, as the team hosts Fannin County in the first round of the Class AAA state playoffs at The Reeve at 7:30 p.m.
Heading into this matchup, the Jackets (10-0, 8-0) couldn’t have asked for a better momentum-builder than last week’s 49-0 dismantling of LFO, the second-best squad in the region. Before the jubilation of the postgame celebration of the state record, Calhoun was once again firing on all cylinders offensively and defensively, scoring on each of its four opening possessions and stomping out any scoring threat from the normally-potent Warrior rushing attack, while transforming a turnover into points with a scoop-and-score from Carson Griffin.
Leading the charge for the Jackets in that bout was running back Zack Fuller, who muscled in two touchdowns alongside another score from backfield partner Jonkell Tolbert. The Rebels can expect a steady dose of that duo this Friday. Signal-caller Gavin Gray was also accurate and efficient, tossing three additional three touchdowns.
“With it being such a big game for the region championship, I thought our guys did a really good job of staying focused on the task at hand,” Calhoun head coach Hal Lamb said. “We were especially dialed in early, and we were able to put them away before halftime. We’ll need a similar effort this Friday.”
Lamb hopes to channel that similar effort against a Fannin County team that put forth somewhat mixed results this year, posting a 4-6 overall record and a 3-3 record in a stout region that includes the likes of Greater Atlanta Christian, Dawson County and North Hall.
Led by quarterback Luke Holloway and running back Treylyn Owensby, the No.4-seeded Rebels have averaged just under 27 points per game this season, while its somewhat leaky defense has allowed an average of 32 points per game. The last time out, Fannin County lost 37-14 to Greater Atlanta Christian, the team that is perhaps most similar to the Jackets in Region 7-AAA.
While that may seem to automatically spell trouble for Fannin County in a clash with a Calhoun offense that has averaged over 48 points per game to this point, Lamb acknowledged that his team can’t underestimate the Rebels, who are a disciplined and fundamentally sound squad that is hungry to make a mark on the playoffs.
“First and foremost, Fannin County is a well-coached team, and they have a lot of momentum coming in because it’s the first time they have made the playoffs in a while,” Lamb said.
“They have a couple of big, physical linemen, a quarterback that can sling the ball downfield and a handful of solid skill players. However, the thing that has impressed me the most with that team is the fact that the entire team plays hard, and they are going to bring their best on Friday. We can’t help them out by turning the ball over, because turnovers seem to multiply in the playoffs.”
As Lamb noted, it has been a while since Fannin County has reached the postseason. It was 2010 to be exact. Unlike the Rebels, the Jackets have grown very comfortable in this round over the past few years, securing first round wins and advancing to the second round every year since 2007.
It’s also been while since these two programs have matched up period, with the last contest between the two occurring in 1997, where the Jackets secured a 17-6 win. The two teams also squared off in 1996, 1977 and 1978, with Calhoun claiming victory each time.
While this season’s results and past results both seem to heavily favor the Jackets heading into this Friday’s matchup, all history to this point can be thrown out the window when it comes to the survive and advance nature of the playoffs. Lamb added that his team has to still play its brand of football in order to prevent the upset.
“We have to turn it up a notch now that it’s the playoffs, because anytime can lose on any given night if they don’t come out ready to play” Lamb said.
“Every Saturday after the first round, you pick up the paper or check online and there’s games across the state where a No.4 beat a No.1, so we have to keep our guard up and bring our best to make sure that doesn’t happen to us.”
Prediction: There aren’t many teams in the state that a rolling on both sides of the ball the way the Jackets are currently. There’s no doubt that an upset-minded, well-coached Fannin County team will be up for this game, but they don’t have the personnel on either side of the ball to halt Calhoun’s immense momentum.
Score: Calhoun wins 49-13