When Hal Lamb and the Class AAA No. 4 Calhoun Yellow Jackets (2-0) pack the buses Friday afternoon to prepare for the 32-mile trip down I-75 toward Class AAAA No. 1 Cartersville (2-0), there will be no surprise in the quality of the program that awaits.
“We are in for an uphill battle,” Lamb said. “But we are going to load the buses and see what happens.”
An uphill battle indeed.
Last season, the Yellow Jackets lost 56-0 to the Trevor Lawrence show in Calhoun, and according to Lamb, this year’s incarnation of the Purple Hurricanes is more potent than last year’s 15-0 Class AAAA state championship team.
“The bottom line is that it will be very difficult to stop their offense” he said. “Because their offense is, in my opinion, better than it was last year.”
The 2016 shutout marked the worst defeat for the Yellow Jackets since the 56-0 loss to LaFayette in 1969. It also was first time Calhoun had been shut out since the 28-0 loss to Wesleyan in the second round of the Class AA playoffs in 2003. But don’t count Calhoun out just yet.
The Jackets are led by quarterback Gavin Gray, who has completed 31 of 52 pass attempts and three touchdowns this season. Running back Zach Fuller has 152 yards on eight carries. Calhoun is 2-0 and coming off a 24-0 shutout of local-rival Dalton. The victory marked the first time Dalton has been shut out since 2010. In fact, in the past nine seasons, Calhoun has not lost a regular-season game to any team other than Carrollton, Dalton or Cartersville. Last year, Calhoun finished with a 10-3 record with losses to Cartersville, Dalton and eventual Class AAA champion Cedar Grove in the quarterfinals.
If Calhoun has a chance, it has to silence Lawrence, but that is easier said than done. Lawrence, a Clemson commitment and last season's AJC player of the year, is coming of a five-touchdown performance in a nationally televised game against Bartram Trail, Fla. In the 52-45 victory, Lawrence was 18-of-23 passing for 403 yards.
“There just is not a whole lot that you can do,” Lamb said of Lawrence, the nation’s No. 1 quarterback prospect. “He is unbelievable. He has all the tools. In my opinion, he is the best quarterback in the nation. He has size, arm strength and he can run. He has the mind and he is a really, really good quarterback.”
If by some miracle Lawrence has an off night, the Yellow Jackets still aren’t out of the woods. Cartersville running back Rico Frye can provide a rushing attack which could cause problems for Calhoun.
“You just have to pick your chances I guess,” Lamb said. “You definitely can’t try to stop the run because Lawrence will pick you apart, and you can’t focus too much on the pass because Rico Frye will pick you apart. They are really good and have skilled people on the outside to throw it to. The only chance we got is that those guys not play as well as they have been playing. Who knows, those guys are really good on that side of the ball and it is definitely an uphill battle.”
Here are a few other games to follow:
-- Class AAA No. 1 Peach County (2-0) plays host to Class AAAAA No. 6 Warner Robins (1-0); 8 p.m. Friday at Anderson Stadium in Fort Valley: This will mark the ninth meeting between the two programs since 1970, with Peach holding a slim 5-4 margin in the series. In a recent trend, home-field advantage might not mean much to the either team. In 2016, Peach County won 20-19 at Warner Robins, and in 2015 the Demons won 44-34 at Peach County.
The Trojans are coming off a 44-14 win victory against a Fromm-less Houston County. UGA commitment and four-star recruit Kearis Jackson had 107 yards on two catches and scored two touchdowns, including a 53-yard pass reception and a 62-yard punt return.
Warner Robins is led by quarterback Dylan Fromm and receiver Tyler Fromm, the younger twin brothers of UGA quarterback Jake Fromm. The twins transferred to Warner Robins from Houston County this season.
-- Class AAA No. 5 Crisp County (2-0) hosts Class A No. 6 Turner County (2-0); 7:30 p.m. Friday in Cordele: The two programs have met 19 times in a series that dates to 1962. The teams played every year from 1962-1967 and then did not meet again until 1994. Since Turner’s 30-0 victory in 1994, Crisp has won 10 games, Turner just two, with the last coming in 2012.
This season, Crisp has defeated Dooly County, 40-18, and Americus-Sumter, 20-18. Turner has victories against Dougherty, 29-18, and Worth County, 27-13.
-- Class AAA No. 7 Pace Academy (1-0) hosts Class AA No. 2 Hapeville Charter (1-1); 7:30 p.m. Friday at Riverview Sports Complex in Atlanta: The two programs have played every year since 2014, with Pace Academy holding a 3-0 lead in the series. This season, Pace is coming off a 21-14 loss to Class AAAAAAA West Forsyth in the opener. (For more information on this game, see Adam Krohn’s Game of the Week blog for Class AA at http://highschoolsports.blog.ajc.com/2017/08/31/gotw-hapeville-charter-at-pace-academy/ )