The fourth-ranked Calhoun Yellow Jackets (12-1, 4-0) are one of the most storied programs in Class AAA, and they will fight to extend their season Friday against No. 1 Cedar Grove. But for a team that has won a region title every year since 2001 and state championships in 1952, 2011 and 2014, the Yellow Jackets find themselves in the shadows of the Class AAA titans -- Cedar Grove, Peach County and Greater Atlanta Christian.
Does Calhoun deserve the same limelight? The short answer? Yes.
No doubt the Yellow Jackets are worthy of the semifinal appearance, but the question is whether they are a championship-caliber team this season? And more directly, can the Yellow Jackets dethrone Cedar Grove and reach the finals? My thoughts are, yes. They are, and they can. But it won't be easy.
Cedar Grove is riding a 23-game winning streak and scored the most points in school history (73) against Redan in early November. The Saints are impressive on offense and rely on a defense that only has given up 83 points this season. That includes five shutouts, with the big one coming in last week’s quarterfinal victory against Pike County (28-0).
But let’s look at what Calhoun will bring to the table.
After getting blown out by then-Class AAAA No. 1 Cartersville on Sept. 1 (58-6), Calhoun -- for lack of a better phrase -- has hardly been challenged except for its 28-20 victory against Monroe Area.
If you look closer, the numbers dictate that Calhoun could, and should, hang with Cedar Grove.
Since the Cartersville loss, Calhoun has outscored opponents 425-101 and has moved through Pace Academy, Liberty County and Monroe Area to earn the semifinal berth against Cedar Grove. This is a team that has been under Hal Lamb’s control long enough that players born the year he arrived at Calhoun are probably playing for him. This is a team that is organized, driven and hungry, and some would argue they are hungrier than any other team in the class.
This is a team with a foundation that has been firmly laid upon the bedrock of Georgia high school football history.
Lamb took time on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming matchup in a telephone Q&A.
Q. What do you see in Cedar Grove?
A. They are a really, really good football team. They have athletes across the board. They are a really, really solid football team. They are well-coached, and it will be a challenge for us.
Q. What will it take to beat them?
A. We have to be solid in all three phases. I think their strength is their defense. Obviously, they’ve only given up 14 points in one game this year, and that’s the most they’ve given up. So obviously you see their defense as the strong point. But their offense and special teams are good, as well. We have to find a way to score some points and somehow to have a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter. Our goal is to try to keep it close and win it in the fourth quarter.
Q. Do you feel you’ve been overlooked in the championship discussion?
A. Yeah, I do. Ever since the Cartersville game, we really have played well. We have got a chance to get to the state championship game, which was our goal from Day 1. And it is a challenging task, but there are only four teams left. I think either one of the four can win it, but we just have to go play our best football game of the year to have a chance.
Q. Do you care about being overlooked? Does it help or hurt?
A. I think it helps the kids. They piggy-back on that. They’ve worked hard, just like everyone else has, all year long. Those three teams, and rightfully so, they’re very, very good football teams, but I think we’re a very good football team. So Cedar Grove is the defending champions, and they're the champs until someone knocks them off. So that is our challenge.
Q. Looking across the bracket at GAC and Peach County, what do you see?
A. I don’t know much about them, to be honest with you. But our focus is Cedar Grove, and if we can get past Cedar Grove, we will worry about those two later. Right now, all of our focus is on Cedar Grove.