It’s always a difficult assignment for a Class A team to match up with a Class AAA team.
And the challenge becomes all the more daunting if the Class AAA teams happens to be one of state’s top programs.
That was the scenario Darlington faced Friday night when the Tigers hosted Cartersville at Chris Hunter Stadium.
Cartersville — which has 79 players on its roster compared to Darlington’s 46 — used its size and depth to handle the Tigers, 36-0, in the non-region contest.
Darlington (1-1) stayed within striking distance for most of the first two quarters, trailing only 6-0 late in the first half before giving up a touchdown just before the second quarter ended.
The powerful Hurricanes then wore down the Tigers in the final 24 minutes and pulled away for the victory.
“We hung in there,” said Darlington coach Tommy Atha. “It’s disappointing to lose 36-0, but I am not at all disappointed in our effort. … Our kids never backed down.”
Cartersville quarterback Brooks Barden, the son of head coach Frank Barden, completed 14-of-25 passes for 187 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. (The pick was by Darlington’s Jordan Beck).
Running back Brandon Long also helped fuel the Cartersville win, rushing for 117 yards on nine carries, including touchdown runs of 21 and 6 yards.
But the real story of the night was the Cartersville defense, which kept Darlington in check.
The Tigers — who moved the ball with great efficiency during last week’s 50-6 win over Murphy (N.C.) — simply could not find any space to operate against the speedy Canes.
Darlington’s first 10 possessions of the night resulted in eight punts and two lost fumbles. The Tigers were limited to four first downs in the first half.
“We threw every formation we’ve got at them,” said Atha. “But my hat’s off to Cartersville. They played a great football game.”
Darlington entered the game short-handed after enduring a series of injuries in recent days.
Robert Muschamp, who is out with a knee injury but is expected to be back before the end of the season, was on crutches Friday night, and several other Darlington stars were forced out of the game as the night wore on.
“When you’re playing a program like Cartersville, you’ve got to be at full strength, and you’ve got to have no mistakes,” said Atha. “We’ve had numerous injuries, but I can’t be more proud of the guys who stepped up.”
Darlington’s defense stood tall in the first half, forcing Cartersville to turn the ball over on downs on the Canes’ first possession and also forcing Cartersville to punt on its first two drives of the second quarter.
But the turning point came late in the first half.
With Cartersville facing a third-and-four at its own 48-yard line, Barden completed a short pass to Trase Fezzia, who broke loose down the sideline and took the ball to the Darlington six-yard line.
On the next play, Long took it in for the score, and Cartersville carried a 13-0 lead into the half.
That sequence provided Carters-ville with a big boost of momentum, and the Canes steadily established full control in the second half.
For Darlington, quarterback Logan Rice completed 3-of-5 passes for 52 yards, including a 23-yard completion to Will Mathis in the first half.
Cartersville’s defense put constant pressure on Rice, and had three sacks.
Darlington now has a week off before visiting Chattooga on Sept. 13, then returns home to host King’s Ridge on Sept. 20.