Jack­ets dom­i­nate, punch ticket to Fi­nal Four

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL SPORTS - Cal­houn Times Sports Ed­i­tor

HI­NESVILLE — Just like it took a while for Cal­houn to make the trip to Lib­erty County, it took them a lit­tle while to get go­ing once their Class AAA Elite Eight show­down vs. the Pan­thers started.

But once they did, the Jack­ets dom­i­nated from then on, es­pe­cially in the sec­ond half to earn an im­pres­sive 31-7 road vic­tory and ad­vance to the Fi­nal Four for the eighth time in the past 10 sea­sons.

Cal­houn coach Hal Lamb said his de­fense set the tone early in the game, and the of­fense came through big in the sec­ond half to com­ple­ment their ef­fort en route to the sea­son-ex­tend­ing win.

“It all starts on the de­fen­sive side for us,” said Lamb. “When you know that they’re not go­ing to score a whole lot on your de­fense, it def­i­nitely takes some of the pres­sure off our of­fense. We didn’t play great of­fen­sively in the first half, but we started to make plays af­ter the half and the de­fense con­tin­ued to play well all night.

“We were down a man de­fen­sively with Bailey (Lester) not play­ing a lot, but our guys stepped up. I can’t say enough about their prepa­ra­tion this week, and we came out and played phys­i­cal, dis­ci­plined de­fense tonight.”

The Jack­ets (12-1) will now move for­ward to visit Re­gion 5-AAA No. 1 seed and de­fend­ing Class AAA state cham­pion Cedar Grove in the State semi­fi­nals next week. (Cal­houn came up on the short end of the GHSA’s Universal Coin Toss for the sec­ond straight week.) Cal­houn led just 10-7 at the half on Fri­day night against the host Pan­thers (9-4), but af­ter a stop to start the third quar­ter from the de­fense, the Jack­ets’ of­fense went down the field and scored to start the dom­i­nant avalanche of the sec­ond half. Quar­ter­back Gavin Gray con­nected with Drew Rut­ledge on a 20yard touch­down pass, one of three the ju­nior sig­nal-caller had on the night, to make it 17-7. Gray fin­ished with 297 yards on 31-of-38 passes to go with his three touch­downs and one in­ter­cep­tion and com­pleted balls to 10 dif­fer­ent re­ceivers. He, along with Jonkell Tol­bert, who rushed for 56 yards and a touch­down, helped pick up the slack for the of­fense af­ter they lost the team’s lead­ing rusher Zack Fuller early in the game. Lamb said they be­lieve Fuller sus­tained a con­cus­sion on a hard hit in the first quar­ter, but Gray and Tol­bert stepped up to make plays in his ab­sence.

“I didn’t know how much we were go­ing to be able to run the ball against this de­fense so I knew we were prob­a­bly go­ing to have to throw it a good bid, and Gavin played very well tonight, tak­ing what the de­fense gave him,” said Lamb. “And went Zack went down, Jonkell stepped up and made some big runs. He plays a lot of de­fense for us, and he never com­plains about his car­ries on of­fense, but when it was his time to run tonight, he did a great job. I’m so proud of him.”

The de­fense al­most com­pletely shut down Lib­erty County’s of­fen­sive at­tack in the sec­ond half, lim­it­ing the home team to just three first downs.

Cal­houn made it 24- 7 mid­way through the fourth quar­ter on a two-yard TD run by Tol­bert added their fi­nal score on a 40-yard touch­down pass from Gray to Luke Mose­ley with 3:41 re­main­ing in the game. The last score was set up by a fum­ble re­cov­ery from Jack­ets’ de­fen­sive line­man CJ Fuller, who had two in the game with the first com­ing in the sec­ond quar­ter.

Lamb said a big task awaits in the next round as his team trav­els to take on Cedar Grove, the same team that elim­i­nated the Jack­ets last year in the third round be­fore go­ing on to win the whole thing, but he said his team will look for­ward to the chal­lenge.

“It’s a huge chal­lenge, and we know that Cedar Grove is a great team just like they were last year,” said Lamb.

“We’ve re­ally got noth­ing to lose. Not many peo­ple will give us a chance to win that game, but I be­lieve in these kids. We need a great week of prepa­ra­tion, and we’re go­ing to go down there play to the best of our abil­i­ties and see what hap­pens.”

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