It’s been a little more than a year since Calhoun made easy work of Monroe Area in the first round of the Class AAA State Playoffs in 2016, but while the name on the uniform might be the same for the Purple Hurricanes, they are certainly not the same team.
That’s the message Calhoun coach Hal Lamb is stressing to his Jackets this week as they prepare for their second-round showdown with Monroe Area on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at The Reeve. Lamb said last year’s 42-0 victory over the Hurricanes means nothing now as Monroe Area has gone through a major since the last meeting.
“We played them in the first round last year, and they have some kids back from that team, but they are almost completely different than they were then,” said Lamb. “They have an all new coaching staff, and they have gone from 3-8 last season to 10-1 this year so they must be doing something right. They have a lot of momentum and confidence, and they are playing at a high level right now. We’ve got to be ready for a big challenge this week or we won’t be playing next week.”
The Jackets (10-1) got the playoffs off to an impressive start last Friday night as they defeated Pace Academy 27-3, pulling away in the second half thanks in large part to a strong night in the rushing game and another dominant effort by their defense. Calhoun’s Zack Fuller tallied 170 yards on 23 carries with two touchdowns as the Jackets’ physical rushing attack wore down the Knights in the second half. Gavin Gray added 157 yards through the air with a touchdown.
Calhoun’s defense limited Pace Academy’s offense to just 144 total yards and only 37 on the ground, which was the Knights’ calling card all season.
“We came out and played well, especially on defense,” said Lamb. “We were on point and kept them behind the chains all night. We knew what they were going to do, and that is a credit to our defensive coaches and players. Offensively, it took us a while to get going, but we were able to wear them down a bit, run the football and milk some clock. I was pleased with how we played, and we were able to come away with a big win and advance.”
The Hurricanes (10-1), who are the No. 2 seed out of Region 8-AAA, were also dominant in their first-round contest, a 42-7 victory over North Hall. It was the eighth time this season Monroe Area has scored 38 or more points. They are one play away from being undefeated in 2017 as their only loss was a 22-21 defeat at Morgan County.
Monroe Area, led by first-year head coach Kevin Reach who came over from Collins Hill prior to this season, relies heavily on junior quarterback Chandler Byron. He is a true dual-threat player as he has thrown for 1,518 yards and 22 touchdowns and run for 1,375 yards and 20 touchdowns this season. They have several capable receivers as six different players have caught touchdown passes led by Jayden Brandon with 447 yards receiving and seven touchdowns, and Jakia Thompson is the second-leading rusher behind Byron with 634 yards and eight touchdowns.
Lamb said keeping tabs on Byron is at the top of his team’s list of priorities on Friday.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to contain their quarterback,” said Lamb. “He is a tough kid and a dual-threat that can cause you problems in a lot of areas. They are very active on defense too and move around well.
“We’ve got to continue to mix the run and pass and not become one-dimensional on offense. We’ve also got to win the turnover battle.”
Lamb added that the Jackets’ being back on their home turf is another big positive going into a tough second-round matchup.
“Being at home is really good for us…that’s why we put so much emphasis on getting that No. 1 seed to know that you will be at home for at least the first two rounds,” said Lamb. “Phil Reeve Stadium is special. It’s one of the best places to play in all of Georgia. The kids love it, and it is a great high school atmosphere, especially in the playoffs. We need it to be like that again this Friday.”