Calhoun’s (13-1) defense has marched to a steady beat all year, yielding 9.3 points per game in the regular season and 9.0 in the playoffs.
This hard-hitting processional was the cause-and-effect behind a 14-6 win over the defending state champions and previously unbeaten Cedar Grove Saints (13-1) in the 3A semifinals. The group will now be heard banging heads against Peach County inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the 3A crown.
“I can’t say enough about this football team. There were a lot of people who doubted we could win this game. We believed we could win,” said Calhoun head coach Hal Lamb. “Our defense was tremendous tonight. To hold them to six points. They got six because of a turnover. Our defense was incredible.”
Junior defensive back Bralin Barton was the hammer and the nail in the coffin of Cedar Grove, snatching three interceptions to secure the victory.
“This started last Sunday. Our preparation was the difference and we were ready. They doubted us. We put in the work and we’re going for the state championship,” said Barton.
In addition to the three interceptions, Calhoun also blocked a punt deep inside Cedar Grove territory. The Yellowjackets wasted little time and went up 7-0 off Gavin Gray’s 6-yard pass to Davis Allen. This first-quarter score would hold till halftime.
Midway through the third quarter, Gray launched a rainbow pass which landed in the hands of Brannon Spector for a 60-yard touchdown.
The combination of a 14-point cushion and the magnitude of a spot in the state championship game on the line, caused Xavier Dennis to press with ill-advised throws. On the ensuing possession, the Saints quarterback tossed his second pick to Barton.
However, he was bailed out by his defense. The Saints caught an interception of their own and converted the turnover into a 1-yard touchdown run by Dennis. Cedar Grove missed the extra point, keeping the score at 14-6.
The Saints matched the opposition with an equally impressive defensive display. They posted two interceptions and made some key stops to kill drives.
Cedar Grove had a shot to draw even with just under eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, but Barton’s hat trick interception put to bed any thoughts of a rally. The Yellowjackets milked all the time off the clock and walked off the field needing one more win to claim a state title.
“We worked really hard. We’ve come a long way since the first day of practice,” said Lamb. “We’ve had some bumps on the road. We’re playing at a high level. To come in here at beat Cedar Grove, that says a lot about these kids.”
Cedar Grove’s dream of completing a perfect season and successfully defending its championship ends in heartbreak. The Saints’ high-powered offense came in averaging 42.3 points. However, it was grounded by turnovers and a stingy defense which closed off all passing lanes and holes at the line of scrimmage.
“We picked the wrong game to make too many mistakes. This was the worst game we played all year. We can’t take anything away from Calhoun. They played a great game and forced us into these mistakes,” said Cedar Grove head coach Jermaine Smith. “The kids worked hard. Nothing went our way. Calls didn’t go our way, plays didn’t go our way. We didn’t make plays that came to us. All that stuff combined together, it’s tough.”