There’s plenty on the line anytime Calhoun and Sonoraville get together on the football field (or any athletic field or arena for that matter), but the anticipation for this Friday’s matchup between the two teams has been ramped up to an even higher level.
The two rivals from Gordon County will meet at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Sonoraville as they battle for bragging rights locally but possibly even more importantly for the No. 1 spot in Region 6-AAA South. With both the Jackets (5-2, 2-0) and Phoenix (6-2, 3-0) holding unbeaten records in subregion play, this game will all but decide who will have a chance to play for the region title in a few weeks. (A Sonoraville win would completely clinch the No. 1 seed as they will complete their subregion schedule on Friday, while Calhoun would likely still need to follow up a win against the Phoenix with a win over Bremen next Friday to clinch.)
No matter which way you slice it, Friday’s matchup, which should have a standing-room only crowd at The Furnace, is being treated with the utmost importance by both teams and their coaching staffs.
“(Our) guys know it’s a big game,“ said Calhoun coach Hal Lamb. “It’s big for a lot of people in this area, and winning it definitely gives you the upper hand in the subregion. It will be a great game and a great atmosphere. There’s no doubt it’s important, but at the same time, we’ve got to treat it like any other game. We’ve got to go out, execute, play well and do what we do.“
Sonoraville coach Jim Kremer said his team has been pretty even-keel all season, but he knows his players will be amped up a little on Friday.
“It seems like we’ve been pretty consistent in that area this season, and our guys are a pretty quiet, focused team,“ said Kremer. “Our guys know that Calhoun has a lot of tradition and confidence, and we have tremendous respect for them. We know it’s going to take an ultimate effort in all phases to compete. What we’ve got to overcome is what is between the ears. We’ve got to overcome that mental part about it being Calhoun and know that those guys put their pants on one leg at a time just like we do. We’ve got to believe that we can compete with them. A lot of teams go in against Calhoun, and they are really down a touchdown or two mentally just based on their reputation. Our guys have to come together, believe and play for each other, and if we do that, we’ll have an opportunity.“
Calhoun comes into the contest off a bye week following their 29-3 win over Adairsville on Oct. 7. Lamb said the off week came at a good time for his team to get some rest and refocus, but they also got some work in and got a jumpstart on preparation for Sonoraville.
“I think we had a really good week,“ said Lamb. “We practiced Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday for about two hours each day and got after it pretty good. I felt like it was a productive week.
“I think Sonoraville is a very good team and solid in all three phases. They do a very good job with what they do, and we’re going to have our hands full, especially going out there. We’ve got to play well.“
Sonoraville’s last opponent was also Adairsville as the Phoenix went down the road and got an impressive 35-0 victory in hostile territory as they put together an all-around solid effort led by the rushing game and defense. Kremer said that win was another to show how far the program has come in the past few years.
“Last year we made a lot of great strides and I felt like we gave (Adairsville) a great game,“ said Kremer. “Our confidence level has gone up over the past couple years no doubt, and going into that game last week, we actually felt like we were the better team.
“It really came down to the line of scrimmage in that one, and I think we played a full game with maximum intensity. Every game you want to see improvement, and we showed that against Adairsville. But we still haven’t reached our potential.“
Both teams will lean heavily on their strong running game as Calhoun is led by quarterback Baylon Spector. The senior dual-threat and Clemson commit leads the team in rushing with 410 yards and four touchdowns, and others, including Jess Ralston and Zach Fuller, have stepped up at running back to shoulder part of the load as well after the Jackets lost preseason All-State performer Olico Dennis at that spot earlier in the season to a knee injury. The Jackets will also use sophomore Gavin Gray at quarterback some as he is more of a threat in the passing game, while Spector stresses the defense with his athletic ability. Gray has thrown for 653 yards and eight touchdowns in limited time.
Sonoraville will counter with their own strong rushing game led by the two-headed attack of quarterback Patrick Moore and running back Tristan Key, among others. Key has rushed for 750 yards and nine touchdowns, while Moore had amassed 681 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. Moore has also shown his ability in the passing game with 566 yards and seven TDs.
Both defenses will have their hands full, but both of those units have shown they are more than capable of shutting down potent offenses. Look no further than both teams’ performances against Adairsville, who has put up their share of points this year. Calhoun held them to just three points, while Sonoraville pitched the shutout.
Lamb said his team is focusing on several keys going into the big game.
“No. 1 is turnovers play a huge part in games like this between two good teams so we have to protect the ball,“ said Lamb. “And we’ve got to tackle well. Their running back and quarterback are both really good players, elusive and quick, so we’ve got to wrap them up. We’ve also got to execute on offense and get some production out of our passing game.“
Kremer said his squad is also preparing to try and shut down the Jackets’ multiple weapons and have an all-around solid effort with minimal mistakes.
“Everybody knows that Spector is one of the best players around so we’ve got to try and contain him,“ said Kremer. “But they’ve got other skill kids too that can hurt you, and they’re good in the trenches. On both sides of the ball, the battle in the trenches is going to be big for us. I feel like we can hold up in the kicking game against anybody so we need to win that. And we’ve got to play consistently on defense and protect the football.“
Calhoun has controlled the series against the Phoenix winning all eight meetings with none of those margins of victory being smaller than 29 points.