In just a few more days, the Cedartown Bulldogs football season will be in full swing. And if all goes as planned, this year’s campaign will be a season of triumphs, redemption, and sweet revenge.
After a season like 2018, how could it be anything else?
Last year, Cedartown entered the season with lofty expectation. The Bulldogs were a consensus top ten team in Class 4-A and were most analysts’ dark horse pick to win Region 5.
Unfortunately, that is not how the season could have unfolded.
After a season-opening last-minute loss at Rockmart, the sky was falling. The Jackets had upset the Bulldogs for the first time since Nick Chubb’s freshman year on Doc Ayers Field. Seven straight victories were erased at the hands of a Dylan Bailey Hail Mary.
The guys could have easily laid down and admitted defeat, but they did not. They powered through the season.
Alexander traveled to Cedartown for the Bulldog home opener the following week, and it took no time to forget the previous week’s struggles. The offense rolled over the Cougars for a 33-7 victory.
After a bye week, the Bulldogs hosted Bremen, but a scrappy Blue Devil squad held on late for a 13-9 win at Doc Ayers Field. In the final non-region game of the season, Cedartown obliterated Southeast Whitfield 55-7 to head into the “real season” 2-2.
Cedartown matched up with defending region champion Cartersville for their first region game of last year’s season. In a hotly contested battle, a missed extra point proved to be the difference as the Bulldogs fell 21-20. Although there are no moral victories in football, the toughness of Cedartown in their near upset of the Canes created motivation moving forward.
The following Thursday the Bulldogs found themselves in another dog fight; on a rainy night at Callaway Stadium, Cedartown outlasted the hometown LaGrange Grangers 9-6. The following week they would defend their home turf with a 48-17 shellacking of Central.
The sky was no longer falling. Cedartown was 4-3 and well on their way to a second straight playoff appearance.
Sadly, Kobe Hudson and the Troup County Tigers raced past the Bulldogs 20-13 on Oct. 19. Following a fourth quarter collapse on Senior Night against Sandy Creek, Cedartown entered Week 10 in a must-win situation. The Chapel Hill Panthers and the Bulldogs of Cedartown met with a playoff spot on the line.
Cedartown left no doubt who was the better team that night. They may have been coming off two tough losses, but they had battled through it before. If they could recover from the Miracle at the Rock, the Bremen loss, or the near-upset of Cartersville, they could do it again. And they would.
The Bulldogs played arguably their most complete game in Douglasville. Taji Hudson threw darts for scores, Tony Mathis and Kobe Hudson were practically unstoppable, and the defense allowed no breathing room for the Panther offense. A 45-13 win sent Cedartown to the playoffs.
Even if the Bulldogs were beaten by St. Pius X in the first round, a postseason bid after a disappointing season meant a lot to the players, fans, and community at large.
The sky was not falling then, and it is not falling now.
Cedartown lost two Division I players in the Class of 2019 this past spring. Running back Tony Mathis will be playing for Head Coach Neal Brown at West Virginia, and defensive back Zahquan Frazier is suiting up at Southern Illinois as a Saluki.
Even with losing those players, this is probably the most stacked Bulldog roster in a decade.
First, there’s East Carolina pledge Taji Hudson, who will return for his second season as starting quarterback.
The rising senior has shown great poise in the pocket, improved decision making, and accurate passing all off season.
Joining him in the backfield is running back Kobe Pryor. He is committed to Clemson, and will lead a rushing attack that consists of himself, UGA target CJ Washington, and Jahkari Robinson.
Wideouts Rashad Walker, Chadriq Neal, and DJ Frazier will lead the receivers as upperclassmen in 2019. Other players will join the fold at that position group as well.
The offensive line will miss some due to graduation, but still return talented players such as Will Pilgrim, Roy Tracy, and Jacob Rush among others.
Defensively, the front line will be one of the best units in the region. Washington will play on both sides of the ball, Payton Carter, Jayan Kent, and Dorian Gibson will surely make an impact there this year.
At linebacker, expect Chadriq Neal to have a big year. The rising senior might be undersized but plays a lot bigger.
Roy Tracy and Kobe Pryor should have great seasons backing the line in 2019 as well.
Finally, the defensive secondary will be without Zahquan Frazier, but returns star power potential. Brothers Jayden and Jeremiah Johnson are standout defensive backs and should shut down even some of the best receivers in Region 5.
Although only the coaches will know exactly which guys could fit where on defensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs will have no shortage of talent to challenge other teams in the region.
The road to redemption will started Cedartown. After opening the year with home scrimmages against Morrow (Aug. 9) and Chattooga (coming up on Aug. 16), the Bulldogs will host Rockmart for their revenge game on Aug. 23. at Doc Ayers Field.
Cedartown will have the opportunity to not only start the year off on the right foot, but to completely erase last year’s total heartbreak with a big win over the Jackets.
After traveling to Alexander the following week, the team will have a bye week. Next up, they will travel to meet a talented Bremen team in Haralson County to seek to get back a win over the Blue Devils, coached by Erk Russell’s grandson Davis Russell.
Non-region play will wrap up on Sept. 20 in Dalton against Southeast Whitfield.
Region play will start out Sept. 27 in Cartersville. The Canes have won three consecutive region titles and have yet to lose a region game since realignment following the 2015 season. They are once again lead by Louisville commit Tee Webb at quarterback. This road game in Bartow County is arguably the toughest on Cedartown’s schedule this season.
The next week, the Bulldogs will host LaGrange. This 2001 State Championship rematch will be Cedartown’s homecoming game. Following a trip to Central, the team will have another bye.
The Friday of October will bring forward another tough task to Cedartown: the Troup County Tigers. Troup is also stacked, having Auburn commit Kobe Hudson at quarterback and four-star defensive end Andy Boykin manning their line. The Bulldogs are 1-2 versus the Tigers in the three years they have been region foes.
Their final road game of the regular season takes place Nov. 1, as Cedartown will travel to Tyrone to take on Alabama commit Brian Branch and the Sandy Creek Patriots. This will be yet another chance for the Bulldogs to down a team that narrowly defeated them last year.
Senior night will be Nov. 8, as Cedartown will host three-star defensive end Braden Swinson and Chapel Hill. 2-1 against the Panthers in three years, the Bulldogs will look to win back-to-back games against them with a victory this season.
A year ago, Cedartown lost each of their regular season games by one possession. If a few plays go the other way, the Bulldogs could have just as easily finished 10-0. However, they hit hard times and finished the season 5-6 with the playoff loss.
The coaches and players will do all they can to ensure this will not happen again in 2019.
Head Coach Doyle Kelley said the team was improving week by week over the summer.
“We are aiming for Game 15. We want to win a region championship and get to Game 15.”
If you ask any players or coaches, you will get the same response.
This talented Bulldog squad is out for blood. They want revenge, and they want to win. They will give it their best shot in 2019, starting against Rockmart on Aug. 23.