Calhoun High School head football coach Clay Stephenson wants his players to understand one thing as they move on to the Elite Eight round of the GHSA 5A state playoffs.
Last week’s 49-42 win over Ware County is over and done with.
If there’s going to be a next thrilling chapter written in what is becoming a more-suspenseful-every-week season, they’ve got to turn the page.
“It’s a new week and the Ware County game is over and we have to move on from it,” Stephenson said. “It was a great win for us. It was a great trip for us. It was a fun trip. But it’s over and the excitement that came with winning that game is something we can’t dwell on. The bottom line is it was a second-round playoff game and now we’ve got an even bigger, more important game this Friday and that’s what this week is all about for us.”
When we hit the practice field Monday, it (started) a new week. We have to let what happened last week go and forget about it. We’ve got another great opponent to play this week and that’s what we have to focus on now. But every game that is behind us now is exactly that — behind us. Our focus has to be on what’s in front of us and right now, this week that’s Clarke Central.”
The teams are meeting in the postseason for the second straight year after playing in the second round last year, when the Yellow Jackets went to Athens and got a 33-14 win over the Gladiators. Stephenson said that means besides trying to get to the 5A state semifinals next week, Clarke Central will also be after something else this Friday night on its home field — revenge.
“Anytime you’re playing a team that you knocked the year before, that team is going to be ready to play and that’s what we’ve got to be ready for,” Stephenson said. “They’ve going to want to get even with us for last year and so we’ve got to be ready to play. It’s going to be another 48-minute game and so we’ve got to be ready to bring it from the opening whistle. But I know they’re going to be ready for us after we were the team that eliminated them last year.”
The Gladiators at this point have to be one of the hottest teams in the entire state, coming into Friday night’s encounter with a 10-game win streak after they started the year with two consecutive setbacks.
They are the Region 8 champions, going 7-0 in their league and began the playoffs with a 46-6 win over Jackson High School before they defeated Starr’s Mill, 24-7, last Friday to stand, just like the Yellow Jackets, three wins away from a state title.
They have scored 393 points in 12 games or just under 33 an outing and have surrendered 193 in that same time or just a tad over 16 points per.
“They are a big, strong, fast, physical team,” Stephenson said of Clarke Central. “They’ve got some good very skill people. They’ve got a very good quarterback. They have a big, strong offensive line. Defensively, they’re very big up front. They run to the football very well. They’ve been making some big plays on defense in the playoffs. I think they’ve only given up two touchdowns in their two playoff games, so they’re a great football team. They’re really playing very well right now and we’ve got to have another good week of preparation and be ready to play our best football.”
The Gladiators don’t have the flashy numbers of some of Calhoun’s other opponents, but have some players posting very solid years.
Junior quarterback Lucian Anderson III has throwing for 875 yards in 12 games, completing 60-of-131 passes for eight touchdowns and he has five interceptions.
Senior running back William Richardson leads the team in rushing with 930 yards in 12 games. He has just 136 carries, but has taken 12 of them to the end zone for an average of one a game or one score for every 11 times he carries the ball.
Senior wide receiver John eli Warrington is the team’s leading pass-catcher with 24 receptions for 402 yards and he has scored seven times. The Gladiators have another player with 17 as the team from Clarke County relies heavily on ball-control and good defense to win games.
“They’re a very good team,” Stephenson said. “But at this point, everybody that is still playing is a good team or they wouldn’t be here. It feels good to be in the position we’re in and the kids and the coaches have worked so hard to be here. But there’s still a lot of football to played. There’s still a lot of work to do and from here on out, you’ve got to be at your best every day, whether that’s at practice or it’s game day.
“But this is a very good team we’re about to play. They’re a team that, like us, has a lot to play but they have that added motivation of knowing what we did to them last year, so we’re going to have to be ready.”
The Yellow Jackets are 10-2 overall and the winner of the Calhoun-Clarke Central contest will play the winner of the Blessed Trinity-Villa Rica game next week in the state semifinals.
Should Blessed Trinity win that game, they would come to Calhoun for a rematch between those two Region 7 teams, who played earlier this year in Atlanta with the Yellow Jackets taking a nail-biting 32-27 victory.