The only distance Calhoun has had to travel in the first two rounds of the Class AAA State Playoffs has been from their locker room to the field at Phil Reeve Stadium, and the home turf has been pretty good to them in consecutive wins over Pace Academy and Monroe Area. If it’s all the same to them, they will take that same kind of effort and good fortune on a field about five hours away this Friday.

The Jackets (11-1) will make the long trip to Hinesville on Friday to take on Liberty County in the third round in a showdown of region champions. (Calhoun came up on the wrong side of the GHSA’s Universal Coin Toss last Friday to give the Panthers home-field advantage in the Elite Eight.) Calhoun coach Hal Lamb said a road trip of that length does make the routine a little different, but he is hoping his players just focus on the task at hand so far from home.

“The hard part this week is making the trip,” said Lamb. “It’s about a five-hour trip so getting the thing organized and planned out is the hard part. We just want the kids to focus on the game. We’re on the road, but at the end of the day, it’s still the same size field. It’s going to be a challenge, but our kids are excited about it. We’ll go down there and play and see what happens.”

Calhoun is coming off a 28-20 victory over Monroe Area in the second round to advance to the Elite Eight for the 10th straight season. They got two big plays on special teams in the second quarter that turned the game around, including recovering a loose ball on a punt after it hit a Hurricanes’ player and then blocking a punt and recovering it in the end zone for a touchdown. Running back Zack Fuller had another big performance in the rushing game as he went for 147 yards on 27 carries with two touchdowns.

Lamb said it wasn’t an all-around flawless performance, but the important thing is that his team found a way to survive and advance to play another week.

“That’s a credit to our guys,” said Lamb. “We didn’t play very well in a lot of areas after looking at the tape. We did some bad things, but the bottom line is we found a way. That tells a lot about the kind of character our guys have to get a win when things really didn’t fall our way.”

Liberty County (9-3), who is the No. 1 seed and region champion out of 2-AAA, presents a big challenge and possibly has the most complete team Calhoun has seen since early in the season against Cartersville. The Panthers are talented on both sides of the ball as they average 32.8 points per game and give up just 16.9 points per game. They have won seven in a row since a 2-3 start to the season.

The Panthers’ biggest weapon offensively is junior running back Kris Coleman who has rushed for 1,767 yards and 19 touchdowns while also boasting 326 yards receiving with four touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Dionte Bowens also presents enough of a threat through the air with 1,025 yards passing and 11 touchdowns. Their defense is fast, physical and opportunistic as they have recorded close to 100 tackles-for-loss, 29 sacks, 17 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries on the season.

Lamb said he knows his team must prepare for a dangerous team and be ready for a hard-fought, four-quarter game.

“After watching the film on them, they are athletic, fast and have some big kids up front on defense,” said Lamb. “Their defensive front is their strength. They don’t do a lot of different, complicated things, but they are very good and very aggressive in what they do.

“I think we’ve got to weather the storm early in the game. We know they are going to be sky high and their crowd is going to be in the game from the start. But we’ve got to remember it’s a four-quarter game and play steady football in all three phases to give ourselves the best chance to win.”