Jackets prepare for tough 1st-round test vs. Knights
Over the last 16 seasons, Calhoun has gone into the State Playoffs as a No. 1 seed on their home field and has never been defeated by a No. 4 seed. They will aim to keep that streak going this Friday when they host Region 5-AAA No. 4 seed Pace Academy, but it’s certainly not going to be an easy task.
In fact, Calhoun coach Hal Lamb said he believes this will be the toughest first-round test his team has ever faced.
“It is a tremendous challenge,” said Lamb. “They are a really good team. They have some good athletes, and they have a lot of size. We’ve definitely got our hands full. In my opinion, this is going to be the toughest first- round game since I’ve been here. But I think our kids will be ready, and we need our crowd to be loud as well.”
The Jackets ( 9- 1) enter the playoffs with a lot of momentum, winning their last seven games, including a 65-23 victory at Murray County last Friday to secure the program’s 17th straight region title. Calhoun had a huge offensive night in the win over the Indians, especially in the passing game with eight total touchdown passes divided between three quarterbacks, including a 361-yard, five-TD effort by starter Gavin Gray. Seven different receivers caught touchdown passes led by Luke Moseley who hauled in four catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns, and a total of 17 different receivers caught a pass.
“I thought we played really well last Friday,” said Lamb. “We did some really good things in the passing game, and our defense was good also. We gave up really only one long run in the first half. It was a great game for us. We were focused on that goal of winning a region title, and now we have to shift our focus to our next goal, winning a state title.”
Pace Academy (5-4) finished in a three-way tie for second in the tough Region 5-AAA along with Lovett and Westminster. ( Defending state champion Cedar Grove finished first in the region.) After a coin flip and tiebreaker, the Knights drew the No. 4 seed and the road trip to Phil Reeve Stadium in the first round to take on Calhoun.
The Knights have some very good players led by senior offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer, who is a five-star recruit and ranked by most services as a top10 player in the country regardless of position. Linebacker/ f ullback Realus George is another threat as he boasts several big scholarship offers and makes an impact on both sides of the ball, including leading the team in tackles (42), tackles-for-loss (19) and sacks (eight).
Junior Keashawn Perryman is Pace Academy’s leading rusher with 724 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground for a Knights’ offense that leans heavily on the run. However, junior quarterback Jared Rayman also poses enough of a threat in the passing game with 661 yards and seven touchdowns through the air this season.
Lamb said his team is focusing on several keys on both sides of the ball to counteract what Pace Academy likes to do.
“They are a really big team, especially on the offensive line, and they like to run it behind those big OL,” said Lamb. “We’ve got to contain their running backs and try to get their offense off the field, or they can put together some long drives.
“I think their biggest strength is on defense. They do so many different things and line up in multiple schemes. They are tough to prepare for. Our job is to go out there on Friday night and play good, sound football in every aspect of the game to give ourselves the best shot at winning.”
Lamb added that the atmosphere created by the home crowd could play a big role as well.
“It’s really important,” said Lamb. “We need to get our crowd into the game. We need it to be very loud and an incredible playoff atmosphere. This is going to be Pace Academy’s first trip here so we need it to be packed and loud to help us. We want it to be a big night for Calhoun Football.”
Pace Academy isn’t your typical No. 4 seed that snuck into the playoffs. They are a legitimate team with very good players and solid coaching. But Calhoun has been through playoff battles before, especially at The Reeve and sent a lot of quality opponents home to start their offseason.
The Jackets will be in for a dogfight early on in Friday’s game, but their depth, talent and experience take control in the second half, and they march on to the second round.
A swarm of Yellow Jacket defenders combines to bring down Murray County’s Nick Ridley (29) last Friday.
Calhoun’s Zack Fuller runs past the Murray County defense for a touchdown last Friday.