The Calhoun Yellow Jackets and the Sonoraville Phoenix begin their respective playoff journeys this Friday night, in a quest to reach the state capital and play for ultimate glory. However, 30 other teams have the same mission. The records are, essentially, 0-0. Here are round one’s playoff matchups for Gordon-County based teams as they begin the climb up the mountain.
Calhoun vs. Morgan County
The Yellow Jackets (9-1, 7-1 region) are back inside friendly confines as they host the Morgan County Bulldogs (7-3, 4-2 Region 8-AAA) Friday at Hal Lamb Field at Phil Reeve Stadium. Calhoun carries a six-game win streak into the contest.
“Record aside, you’ve got to just keep taking it one game at a time,” Yellow Jackets head coach Clay Stephenson said. “Now that we’ve here in the postseason, the record doesn’t matter, ... but I do feel like we’ve built so momentum these last few weeks and hopefully we can peak at the right time.”
Senior quarterback Jake Morrow and junior running back Jerrian Hames have been linchpins for the Yellow Jacket offense. Hames has recorded six scores in his previous two games with 248 rushing yards.
“They’ve both done a great job not just in their play, but they’ve both turned it into a leadership role on the team,” Stephenson said. “Coach Davis has done a good job and the offensive staff of tethering the offense toward everybody’s strengths and weaknesses. I feel like we’ll continue to do that in the playoffs. (Jake and Jerrian) created a good tandem.”
The Bulldogs arrive in Calhoun on a one-game losing streak and have lost two of their previous three games. Morgan County allowed an average of 39 points during that span.
Morgan County’s offense is led by senior quarterback Trenton Folds and junior running back Kobridgette Lumpkin.
“They’re very athletic (and) they’ve got a good quarterback,” Stephenson said on Morgan County. “He can get the ball to his playmakers out in space and those same playmakers play defense so they’ve got a good secondary. Probably their greatest strength is that they’ve got speed and they’ve got a lot of people that can make plays.”
On the flip side, Calhoun’s defense has made life difficult for any opponent. The Jackets have only conceded more than 14 points once this season.
“We’ve got to create some turnovers on defense and hold on to the ball on offense,” Stephenson said. “Coach Morrow has done an awesome job ... we had so many inexperienced players, that you don’t know what you’re good at until you get into the middle of the season. Coach Morrow has done a good job of putting those guys in positions to make plays and they’ve made them.”
The stands at The Reeve should be packed for a scheduled kickoff time of 7:30 p.m. Calhoun clinched a first-round home playoff game on Nov. 1, when the Jackets took down Haralson County 28-14.
“Playoff games are special, regardless of where you’re playing,” Stephenson said. “Obviously, playing at home gives up extra motivation for us. Especially the Haralson County game, knowing we could win that one and have a home playoff game. It’s very important for the seniors to get to play back at home again. They’re excited, the atmosphere’s going to be through the roof ... and it’s going to be a good night for football.”
Sonoraville vs. Jefferson
The Sonoraville Phoenix (5-5, 4-4 region) are in the playoffs for the first time since 2016, representing Region 6-AAA as the No. 4 seed. Their first opponent is Region 8’s No. 1 seed Jefferson Dragons (8-1, 6-0 region).
“Playing on the road, coming out and getting off to a good start,” Phoenix head coach Denver Pate said in a phone interview. “You don’t want to be playing catch up. You want those kids to be in the football game where they can gain some confidence.”
This will be Pate’s first-ever playoff game at the helm of the Sonoraville football program.
The Phoenix roll into Jefferson on a one-game losing streak after falling in the regular-season finale at North Murray 45-21 last Friday.
During that game, junior quarterback Brady Lackey struggled, throwing one touchdown pass and three interceptions.
However, last Friday is in the past as Sonoraville wipes the slate clean and dials in on the Dragons. Pate said his team’s greatest asset entering Friday is the veteran experience across the Phoenix roster.
“Jefferson is a fairly young team,” Pate said. “Defensively, they’ll start two sophomores, at times they’ll play with three. For that, they’re a young football team and I think just the experience some of our guys have gained, we have several three-year starters on our football team, so those guys have a lot of games under their belt.”
Friday’s contest could come down to the efficiency of each Sonoraville possession. Like Haralson County, Jefferson is a run-heavy, triple-option team that can run down a game clock.
“With their offense being a triple-option attack, I think first downs are key,” Pate said. “If they can play behind the sticks or you leave them in second or third and longs, it’s not ideal for those guys. Second and medium to third and short is where they make their living. Offensively, converting on third down and keeping the chains moving. Eliminating the three-and-outs.”
Jefferson’s offense runs through senior quarterback Colby Clark. During the regular season, Clark ran for a team-leading 735 yards and 15 touchdowns. Don’t discount Clark’s arm, as the 5-foot-10 listed QB completed 24 of 43 pass attempts for 483 yards and nine touchdowns. Clark has not thrown an interception since 2018.
“Probably how hard they play up front,” Pate said on what stands out most about Jefferson. “I think they play extremely hard in the trenches on both sides of the football. You can tell that they’re are very well coached.”
For a Phoenix upset to come to fruition, Pate said it’s about winning the turnover battle.
“Offensively, ... you can’t turn the football over against quality football teams,” Pate said. “We’ve got to make sure ball security is of the utmost importance and then we’ve got to create a couple (of turnovers).”
Sonoraville will travel the 100-or-so miles to Jefferson, where kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Jefferson Memorial Stadium. Despite the road environment, Pate said he expects Phoenix Nation to come out and support the team.
“We expect to step in there and put our best foot forward and compete against these guys,” Pate said. “We know our fans will travel well and we expect a good showing Friday night.”