This is it.
Two of the top 5A high school football teams in the state square off Friday night for the Region 7 championship when Calhoun travels to Cartersville in the Yellow Jackets season finale.
The unbeaten Purple Hurricanes, which are 8-0, is currently the third-ranked 5A squad in Georgia while the Jackets, who have won seven straight, are presently seventh in the state and both are 4-0 in Region.
And what both really want now is one more win this week to be league champion and a top seed in the upcoming playoffs.
“It’s a big game and I know we’re all really looking forward to it,” Calhoun head football coach Clay Stephenson said. “I’m really proud of the kids for putting us in this position. We know Cartersville will be a tremendous challenge, but one of our goals was to be in this position going into the last week of the season and so we’re excited about it. We just need to have another good week of practice and another good week of preparation and then come out and play our best football this Friday night.”
The Hurricanes are coming off a 49-7 win over Woodland last Friday night as the Wildcats lost their eighth straight game after a season-opening win over winless Gordon Central. Cartersville’s four Region wins this year have all been one-sided with their closest call in the league a 34-14 win over winless Hiram, a team the Jackets shellacked, 63-17.
Stephenson said all of that is irrelevant now.
“I think you’ll see both teams at their best this week,” Stephenson said. “I know we wanted to go into that last game of the year with a chance to win region and so we are excited about having that opportunity. And I’m sure they also wanted to come into this game with a chance to do the same thing. So I think you’ll see both teams come out with great intensity and a lot of energy and ready to play.”
He said Cartersville is as good as advertised.
“They’re a very good football team,” Stephenson said. “They have very good size. They have very good speed. They have a lot of athletes and they have a strong tradition. They have a very capable quarterback and a big-play offense. On defense, they run to the football very well and bring a lot of people. They’re a very well-coached football team and they do not beat themselves.
“So I think we’re going to need the win all three phases of the game, offense, defense, special teams, and we’re going to have to play mistake-free football. I think if we can do those things, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
He said he wants his guys to go play with great effort and let their abilities shine this week.
“I just want to see us go out and compete,” Stevenson said. “I want to see us go and play like we have been and play like it’s just another game. I don’t want us to overthink it. I want to see us execute what we’re doing in all three phases. I want us to take it one play at a time and execute on that particular play. Don’t worry about the last one. Don’t worry about the next one. Just focus on what we’re doing right now. But it’s a big game for both teams and we’re going to have to be ready to go from the opening whistle.”
Senior quarterback Jake Parker runs the Cartersville offense and has completed 58 percent of his passes this year, going 75-of-130 in the throwing department with 13 touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Hurricanes also have a sophomore, Brelace Williams, who has completed 44-of-90 passes in seven games.
They use two senior running backs, Asa James and Amari Wgite, who have combined for 1,200 yards on the ground this fall and junior Malachi Jeffries has complimented them with another 500 himself, to bolster their running game.
The Jackets went to 4-0 in the region with a 35-14 win over Cass last Friday night and that victory means no matter the outcome this week, the locals will be in the friendly confines of Phil Reeve Stadium in a little over two weeks when the 5A playoffs kick off.
“We feel real good about winning and getting a first-round home game, “ Stephenson said. “That was one of the things that made the win over Cass, besides staying in a position to win the region championship, so important. We definitely wanted to be able to have a playoff game in town in front of our fans and it’s nice to have achieved that goal. “
That win over Cass was different from most of the Yellowjackets victories this year. After the Men in Black took a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter, the Colonels just hung around until the final minute of the game when sophomore running back Caden Williams busted loose on a 55-yard touchdown run in the final minute of the contest to seal it.
“It was a weird game,” Stephenson said. “We made some costly mistakes that kept us from building on that lead once we got it. And they did a good job of moving the football and making us play defense for long stretches. It really came down to five or six plays that I felt like we didn’t make that gave them a chance to just stay in the game.
“But Cass has a good team and I knew coming in that it was going to be a tough one. But it was good to see how the kids responded. The defense made some big plays when we needed them to. I think in that second half their possessions went turnover, turnover, punt, turnover, so they moved the ball on us, but we were able to make the play that we needed to keep them from scoring any more than they did. Hopefully we can continue to do that going forward because we’re going to be facing a lot of good offenses going forward, starting this Friday with Cartersville. So you got to be able to step up and make a play when you need too, and I felt like we did that against Cass.”
He said every time the Yellow Jackets take the field it’s a big game, but starting with Cartersville this Friday night on the road, every game his team plays from here on out will have ramifications.
“I think we are all very excited about where we are right now,” Stephenson said. “But you still have to focus on taking care of business every day in practice to make sure that you can take care of your business in the game. But this is what you play for. We’re thrilled to be in a position to have a chance to win this region because we play in a very tough region.
“And we’re excited about getting to have a playoff game at home and we’re excited about being in a position to be in the playoffs but right now our focus is on this Friday night and having another good week of preparation. The next big challenge we have is right in front of us and that’s what all our focus is on right now.”
Kickoff Friday night in Cartersville is 7:30 p.m.