Jackets start playoffs at home with Decatur
The Calhoun High School football team begins what they hope will be a five-week journey Friday night when the Yellow Jackets host Decatur at Phil Reeve Stadium in the first round of the Georgia high school 5A state playoffs.
For football fans, with no disrespect to Christmas, the postseason is the most wonderful time of the year.
The games are never over til they’re over.
Upsets start to happen. That unique ball with the points on each end can take funny bounces.
And things can change in a hurry.
“You’ve got to be a very good football team to win a state championship in Georgia, “Calhoun head football coach Clay Stephenson said. “At this point, everybody still playing is good and very capable of beating you. Decatur has won eight games and is a good football team so you’ve got to be at your best really every play because things can turn so quickly. But the state playoffs are also always a lot of fun to be a part of and I think our team, our coaches and our fans are super excited about getting it going this Friday night.”
Everyone in the program had a chance to catch their breath last week with the Yellow Jackets having their second and final open date of the campaign and now Stephenson says it is definitely back to business.
“It was a good week for us,” Stephenson said. “I felt like we got a lot of good work done. We worked a lot on basics and fundamentals and the kids did a great job with that. I thought we showed a lot of improvement and the kids got better at everything we were doing.
“And we took some time off
in a good way. So we feel real good about what we accomplished. And now our focus is on this week. We want to have an even better week of preparation this week then we had last week because we need to come out Friday night and play at a high level for 48 minutes.”
Stephenson said there is a lot of excitement in the air right now.
“It’s a big week. No question,” Stephenson said. “That first playoff game is always an exciting time. We went into the weekend not knowing much about the teams that we might be playing and not knowing much obviously about Decatur, but as soon as we found out that is who we were going to be playing, we started preparing for them. We got a chance to see them play last Friday night and we were very impressed with them, so we’ve got a big challenge ahead of us but the kids are super excited about the opportunity and I know we as coaches are very excited about this opportunity. “
The game will end a nearly two-week layoff since the Yellow Jackets last played on Friday October 29th when they fell, 21-14, in the pouring rain to Cartersville, the top-ranked 5A club in the state. The Jackets really had two plays in that game that seemed to be swing and then keep momentum in the Canes’ corner.
In a game the team used to replicate what the playoffs are like because of the atmosphere, the level of competition, and the weather, a long Cartersville touchdown pass just before halftime and a seemingly bad call after a Cole Speer interception midway through the third quarter were huge.
First, leading 7-0 in the waning seconds of the first half, the Purple Hurricanes hit on a 42yard touchdown pass to push that lead to 14-0 as the bands lined up to come on the field.
But Calhoun took the second-half kickoff and went right down the field to cut that lead in half with its first touchdown of the night.
Moving 62 yards on seven plays in just two-and-a-half minutes, the Jackets got right back in it with sophomore Caden Williams running it in from 3 yards out.
A 24-yard pass from senior quarterback Christian Lewis to Cole Speer the play before the score and a Lewis 9-yard scamper earlier had kept the drive going.
Sergio Sanchez came on to kick the extra point and with still over 21 minutes remaining in the football game Calhoun trailed just 14-7.
Then things got weird and unlucky for Calhoun with a turnover by Cartersville actually working out in their favor.
The Hurricanes were lined up at their own 49 when they dropped back and lofted a long one deep down the middle, which Speer picked off at the goal line while running towards the goal post.
The pick clearly seemed to be a touchback, which would have given the visitors the football at their own 20. But the refs decided that that Speer picked it off inside the one and that was where the ball should be spotted, even though his momentum clearly carried him into the end zone because the University of Georgia commit caught it on the doorstep of the end zone.
When the Yellow Jackets couldn’t move it out of the shadow of their own goal line, a bad snap forced a short punt and Cartersville wound up with great field position at the Calhoun 36. They would then go that distance to push the advantage back to two touchdowns early in the fourth period.
“We definitely thought Cole’s momentum took him into the end zone,” Stephenson said. “I mean he didn’t try to run it out because we all thought it was a touchback. And that was a big call. We had just scored to make it a one-score game and it looked like we were going to get the ball back at our own 20 and instead we’re lined up at the half-yard line and trying to get away from our own goal line. We can’t get a first down and they wind up getting great field position out of it. And they capitalized on that.
“But I give our kids credit. They didn’t hang their heads and they just kept battling but, unfortunately, those are some of the things sometimes you have to overcome to get a win. But we definitely thought it was a big call and it pushed the lead back to two scores for them and really changed the game back in their favor.”
The Decatur Bulldogs are the third seed out of 5A Region, finishing with a 4-2 record in the league behind champ St. Pius X, which went 6-0, and Southwest Dekalb, who was 5-1.
The Bulldogs ended the year Friday night with a 34-9 loss to St. Pius, but Stephenson said that doesn’t mean a thing right now.
Decatur is a good football team,” he said. “They’re very strong up front on both sides of the ball. They’re athletic with good speed. They ran the ball and threw the ball very well in the game we saw, so they present a real challenge. And we’ve got to be ready to go from the opening whistle.”
The winner of the CalhounDecatur game will play the winner of the Ware CountyBanneker next Friday in the second round.
Region champ Cartersville hosts Lithonia, which is the four seed out of Region 5, to open the playoffs.
Blessed Trinity, which is the third seed out of Region 7, will be at Southwest Dekalb in their opening-round outing. The winner will meet Jonesboro or defending state champion Warner Robins next week in the second round.
Cass is the fourth playoff team from Region 7 and they begin at St. Pius X with the team that advances playing either Coffee County or Creekside next week.
Calhoun is 8-2 and the kickoff Friday night at Phil Reeves stadium is set for 7:30 p.m.