Cedar Grove came into The Reeve last year and ended Calhoun’s season in the Elite Eight before going on to win the Class AAA state title. Not very often in sports do you get a shot at redemption, but that’s exactly what the Jackets have on Friday night.
Calhoun (12-1) will travel to Buck Godfrey Stadium on Friday to face the Saints (13-0) in the Class AAA Final Four in hopes of returning the favor for last postseason’s season-ending and crushing defeat. Calhoun coach Hal Lamb said he knows that last season’s game will be in the back of his team’s mind and serve as motivation this week as they prepare for the undefeated Saints.
“We’ll talk about it,” said Lamb. “Cedar Grove is an up and coming program, and the last four or five years they have been great. We’ve faced them a couple times in the playoffs over the last few years, and our kids know that they were the team that put us out last season. We remember that, but the bottom line is we’ve got to go down there, execute well and play our best ballgame of the year to give us a chance to win.”
The Jackets earned their eighth berth in the Final Four in the last 10 years with a 31-7 victory at Liberty County last Friday. They led just 10-7 at the half before coming out and dominating the final two quarters. The Calhoun defense had another impressive, stifling night, holding a dangerous Panthers’ offense to 138 total yards with 74 of those coming on the team’s one touchdown play of the night. They racked up 11 tackles-for-loss as a unit and recovered two fumbles. (Defensive lineman CJ Fuller had both fumble recoveries, and defensive lineman Zeke Nance forced one of them.)
The Calhoun passing game was leaned on heavily in the victory as quarterback Gavin Gray threw for 297 yards on 31-of-38 passing with three TDs and one interception. He connected with 10 different receivers.
“I think that win showed a lot of character by our guys,” said Lamb. “They handled the long trip well and went out and took care of business. We got it going better offensively in the second half, but defensively we played well all night.”
Reserve running back Jonkell Tolbert also stepped up in the win as he finished with 56 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown in place of starter Zack Fuller, who left the game early with a concussion. Lamb said that the plan is for Fuller to practice with no contact early this week and then hopefully get some contact on Wednesday and be ready for Friday’s game against Cedar Grove.
The Saints enter the game with all kinds of momentum as they are not only unbeaten this season, but many of their games have been completely dominant blowouts. Their closest game this season was a 21-point victory over Pace Academy. Their roster is stocked full of college prospects with junior receiver Jadon Haselwood their most coveted athlete. He is the No. 1-ranked receiver in the nation and No. 1-ranked player in Georgia for the 2018 class.
Lamb said Cedar Grove is a very complete and scary team to see on film, but his team will do everything they can to be prepared and compete on Friday.
“They are loaded with talent,” said Lamb. “They are really good…big, strong and athletic. They are very talented, well-coached and playing really well. They have scored a lot of points this year and haven’t given up a whole lot of them.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge, but we’re playing well right now too. We’ve got to play our best game of the year and see what happens.”
This will be the third time the two teams have met with Calhoun winning their meeting 38-13 in the second round in 2014 en route to a state title and Cedar Grove earning a 47-21 victory last year as they made their way to a state title.
Lamb said making them work for everything they get on Friday is one of the biggest keys along with the Jackets taking advantage of every opportunity they get to put a touchdown on the board instead of a field goal close to the goal line.
“We’ve got to play good, sound defense and can’t give up the big play,” said Lamb. “We need to make them drive the ball and earn their points. On offense for us, we have to take advantage in the red zone. We have to come away with touchdowns and not field goals. And we have to force some turnovers. I don’t think there is a way we can win this game without winning the turnover battle.”